Ride-sharing service Uber is growing in popularity. It provides an efficient way for thousands of users each day to get from one place to another. In many locales, Uber is at least modestly less expensive than alternatives like taxi services. That convenience and lesser cost may come at a bigger price than you realize, however. Over the past few months, it has become increasingly clear that your location privacy is not truly safe with Uber.
Does Uber really snoop on your location?
If you’ve ever used Uber or even just installed the app, you’ve put yourself on the company’s radar. In late 2016, we learned that Uber employees were able to track customers in real-time without their consent. Uber employees were claimed to have tracked politicians, celebrities, ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, and ex-spouses using the company’s so-called “God View.”
How can Uber track its customers that way?
When you first install Uber on your iPhone, you are prompted to turn on Location Services for the app. Since Location Services only has two possible settings for an app, Always or Never, that means the software is technically capable of tracking where you are even when Uber is running in the background.
The fine print of Uber’s explanation for collecting this data reads:
For improved pickups and dropoffs, customer support, and safety, Uber collects your location (i) when the app is open and (ii) from the time of trip request through five minutes after the trip ends.
Can I turn that capability off?
If you’re not convinced it’s in your best interests for Uber to have access to your location information when you aren’t requesting a ride, you can disable it. Simply go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Uber and set Allow Location Access to Never.
The drawback to doing this is that the next time you request a ride from Uber, the app won’t know where you are. You’ll have to manually type in your address. That seems like a small price to pay to prevent Uber from tracking you without your consent.
Whither goes our privacy?
Even though it’s easy to disable, and Uber states in the update notes that “you’ll always be in control over what location information is shared and can adjust this at any time,” why was this allowed to become a problem in the first place? App developers should be more conscientious about our rights to privacy. We decry invasions on our privacy when the government causes them, so you would think there would be more of an outcry when a service makes the same assault. Has convenience overwhelmed our desire to maintain some privacy?