Uber revises privacy policy, wants more data from users

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Uber Technologies is revising its privacy policy to allow it to access a rider's location when its smartphone app is running in the background, and to send special offers to users' friends and family.

Users will be in control in either case, and will be able to choose whether to share that data with the ride-hailing company, wrote Katherine Tassi, managing counsel of data privacy at Uber in a blog post Thursday.

The company has faced criticism in the past over how it handles sensitive information, particularly over its so-called "God view" tool that apparently lets some Uber employees track the location of customers that have requested car service. U.S. Senator Al Franken wrote to Uber last year for information on its privacy policy, including on measures taken to limit access to the tool.

Uber's new policy for both riders and drivers goes into effect July 15, and follows a review by law firm Hogan Lovells, which recommended simplifying existing policies to make them easier to understand. It is available in 23 languages, covering most of the languages spoken in the 57 countries where Uber operates. The new privacy statements are "half as long as before, with much less legal jargon," Tassi wrote.

Under the proposed privacy statements, Uber will use its app to collect the precise location of the user's device when the app is running in the foreground or background, if the app is allowed to access location services through permissions in the mobile OS. The company may also arrive at the approximate location of the user from his or her IP address.

This information will be collected in addition to precise location data about a trip collected from the Uber app used by the driver when a rider uses the service. Disabling the collection by the app of precise location data from the device will also not limit the company's ability to derive approximate location from the rider's IP address.

Uber will also ask for access to the address book on customers' devices, again through the permission system on the mobile platform. It said it may access and store names and contact information from user address books to "facilitate social interactions" through its services and for other purposes.

The company needs these permissions to be able to offer newer services and features, such as ordering food through UberEATs, Tassi said.

Uber will also collect ride transaction details, information on calls and SMS messages between drivers and users, device information, information on how users and site visitors interact with its services, and log-in information when using services. It may also collect information from other sources which the rider uses to interact with Uber services, such as linked Facebook and Google Wallet accounts.

The company retains permission to hand over customer data to third parties like vendors, marketing partners and law enforcement officials under certain circumstances.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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