Uber Broadens Rider Privacy Policy, Asks for New Permissions

Uber Technologies Inc.’s new privacy policy released Thursday is shorter, easier to read and more expansive than before.

The car booking company now more clearly tells its customers it can pretty much track everything they do while using the Uber app, after facing criticism over privacy, especially its use of a tool called God View enabling the company to know where its riders were at any given moment.

Uber last November hired the law firm Hogan Lovells to respond to the criticism and conduct a review of the privacy policies. The law firm advised Uber to improve disclosures, training and employee accountability. But the law firm concluded that Uber didn’t need to improve how it handled sensitive rider information within the company, a central concern of critics, Harriet Pearson, a partner at Hogan Lovells in Washington, said in an interview.

Data about riders “actually wasn’t an issue. They had already addressed that at the time of our review,” Pearson said.

Instead, the firm said Uber needed to make sure it was clearer and more transparent, rather than significantly altering its existing policies.

The new privacy policy is clear: Uber can track you when you’re using the Uber app. The company can read text messages you send to drivers, follow your location as you ride in an Uber and store your address book on its servers. Customers can find the policy on the app and the company’s website.

“This is written in a way to protect themselves from liability,” said Lorrie Faith Cranor, director of the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “This is a company that collects and uses a lot of data.”

Rider Locations

With the new update, which takes effect July 15, Uber can ask permission to track a rider’s location even when the application isn’t open.

The new U.S. policy is 3,000 words shorter than the previous version, but it expands the amount of data that Uber can collect about passengers. As is standard with privacy policies, it outlines what Uber is allowed to do, while offering few promises from the company about how it will safeguard user data.

Uber retains permission to hand over data to third parties. If a rider is using Uber for Business, the startup can turn over data to the rider’s employer.

Following Journalists

Uber hired Hogan Lovells after the company faced criticism for prying into journalists’ private lives. Emil Michael, a Uber executive, told a reporter the ride-hailing company had considered hiring researchers to dig into the lives of unfriendly journalists.

“Uber began implementing the recommendations from Hogan Lovells immediately after we received them,” Kristin Carvell, a company spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail. “For example, we have continued to reinforce access controls, doubled the size of our privacy team, formalized our data protection training for employees and made our privacy policies easier to understand.”

The policy has been translated into 23 languages, the company said.

Uber also is making it easier for riders to see the rating the drivers give them within Uber’s application, one of the suggestions from Hogan Lovells.

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