Back in early November, Uber introduced a major overhaul of its popular ride-hailing app. The said update included a plethora of new features to the main Uber app, but also streamlined its user interface with some help from Uber’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Namely, the app’s home screen is now changing based on users’ habits and anticipated needs while other, less frequently used options are hidden in one of Uber’s many menus.
However, in addition to introducing these useful new features, the update also changed the way the app works. Uber is now tracking people even when they aren’t using the ride-hailing app. Not surprisingly, this revelation raised some privacy concerns among the general public. The issue came to light due to the iOS app permission system which requires users to agree to the app using their location either when it’s turned on or always. As it turns out, after the latest Uber update, the app now requires users to always share their location with the ride-hailing company. While this function went under the radar among Android users, The Verge confirmed the Android version of the app works the same. However, while iOS users can opt to never share their location with Uber and manually enter their pickup address, such an option doesn’t exist on Android.
While Uber stated that the difference between the Android and iOS version of its app should be fixed by updating the former, the company also took the time to defend its decision to start tracking users even when they aren’t using the service. Namely, the San Francisco-based firm stated it’s only tracking riders for up to five minutes after they’ve reached their destination. The company justified this by explaining that additional location tracking helps it improve its services, i.e. make them more accurate. In an email sent to The Verge, Uber’s representative explained how this new practice is incredibly important in territories where reverse geocoding — a technique Uber usually uses to identify specific addresses — is not sufficiently accurate. The ride-hailing company also stated that this is the only way Uber riders will be able to share their locations and approximate arrival times with their friends in the future.