Service of Strangers Knowing More About You Than Your Family Does

June 15th, 2015

Categories: Apps, Audacity, Car Booking Company, Customer Service, Marketing, Radio, Taxi, Transportation

Photo: rmbo.org

Photo: rmbo.org

Len Berman and Todd Schnitt

I wake up to Len Berman and Todd Schnitt in the Morning on WOR 710 Radio, a welcome addition to the NYC media scene since January. Last Thursday Schnitt, [on the right in the photo with Berman, at right], said he’d deleted the Uber app from his Android phone because he didn’t want to give the company access to his address book nor did he want the company to know his location even if he hadn’t opened the app. He said the latter intrusion will happen in July. Schnitt said he takes yellow cabs to work every morning at 4a.m.–the show runs from 6 am to 10–and plans to look for a different car booking company, like Lyft.

I asked a friend (in her 20s) what she thought about all this surveillance, shadowing and privacy invasion. She said, “I always just think/sort of joke around that my iPhone knows more about me than I do. The other day my phone told me how long it would be for me to get to Columbia [University] from midtown — I never put that in as a home address or anything. The phone just sort of figured out on its own that I was there a lot. Creepy. 

“As for Uber,” the recent Columbia Journalism grad student continued, “there was that ‘God view’ feature which gave away a users’ location. Not sure if that is still in use. It makes sense to a certain extent so the driver can find you but access beyond that they shouldn’t have—such as your contacts’ info!”

Dog tracking scent Photo: pbs.org

Dog tracking scent Photo: pbs.org

According to Insurance Journal, “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.” Eric Newcomer, who wrote “Uber Discloses Expanded Customer Data Tracking,” continued: “the firm said Uber needed to make sure it was clearer and more transparent, rather than significantly altering its existing policies.” The [law] firm referred to is Hogan Lovells.

“The new privacy policy is clear,” wrote Newcomer. “…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.”

Newcomer reinforced what talk show host Schnitt said. He wrote: “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.” And “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.”

Remember the prehistoric slogan about customers always being right?Customer is always right right At Uber the drivers rate customers. If you keep a driver waiting, if you aren’t as polite or friendly as a driver expects a passenger to be, you’ll get a bad grade. Why does this matter? If you are looking for transportation at rush hour or after an event, you very well might be left waiting on the curb.

Sidebar: Why did Uber hire the law firm in the first place? According to Newcomer: “Uber hired Hogan Lovells after the company faced criticism for prying into journalists’ private lives.”

Uber, available around the world, has caught on like wildfire [though it’s encountering legal glitches in France, Germany and South Korea according to techcrunch.com]. In February alone, according to fusion.net, the company attracted $2.8 billion in venture capital.

Is the public so in love with clever technology that it accepts every–and anything–from a company that’s expert at it? Have you used the service? Will you continue to after July 15?

Privacy

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8 Responses to “Service of Strangers Knowing More About You Than Your Family Does”

  1. Deirdre Wyeth Said:

    Deirdre wrote on Facebook: This is so creepy!!

  2. Martha Takayama Said:

    I have never used Uber nor do I intend to. I mistrusted and disliked it intensely even before I read the new information contained in your post. If it is logical I should accept a ride from anyone for a fee, why should I hesitate to get in a car with any total stranger who passes by and offers me a ride without a fee? The service seems fraught with hazard for the passenger who will later even be evaluated!

    There is a certain element of risk riding in a taxi, especially in a metropolis like New York. There is also risk for the driver. The system of licensing, inspections, dispatchers, company owners, visible drivers’ I.D.’s, and information on how to file a complaint would seem to make things more reliable. Hailing a taxi on a street you do not need to share any personal data. Calling for one, only a minimum bit of information may be necessary.

    I shudder at the thought of any commercial entity having any more gratuitous information about me than Google and credit cards already do. The concept of an unknown person who hires out to transport anyone then evaluating a passenger or client is beyond absurd. Where do all the concerns about undesirable sharing of personal data, internet privacy, email invasion, etc. factor into this grand design? I can imagine Uber records being summoned in the future for court testimony.

    Who and what exactly is Uber? What is their function or more important what do they think is their function beyond acting as an uncharted intermediary for hire connecting a passenger with an individual willing to transport passengers for a fee? Beyond the faux technological fanfare, this seems like a pretty primitive form of commerce. None of what is being evaluated or gathered seems to be any of Uber’s business. The whole concept of Uber sounds a bit like a science fiction master plan for megalomaniac international control!

  3. JML Said:

    The first thought that came to my mind when I read your blog was “Deutschland Uber Alles,” and all that connotes.

    I spent fourteen of my first twenty-one years, before and after the Second World War, living in European countries with totalitarian governments. I was lucky, my parents were diplomats, and we were protected by diplomatic immunity. I did not suffer.

    None-the-less, I vividly remember how we had to be careful what we said, not just in public, but on the telephone, in the house, except, in later years, for one special room which was considered “bug free,” at meals, in the car, indeed everywhere, because someone was always listing. As an adolescent, I was even followed on occasion.

    As an adult, I travelled extensively in, did business with, and even lived in third world countries most of which had totalitarian governments. I am glad I do not have to do that anymore.

    I admit to using a computer, and do appreciate many of the benefits having one brings me, but I do shudder every time I “go on the internet” or use Google. More and more, I keep my electronic credit card use to a minimum, and I still pay my bills by check whenever possible. Also, I stay off the telephone if I can.

    No thanks. I want no part of any of these new gadgets or services. They scare the Hell out of me. I may even throw my computer away one of these days.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    The overt excuse for Uber’s existence is that it gives work to so many people who in this economy might otherwise be out of work.

    You bring up valid issues and questions. I think the theory around the benefit of this kind of service is that during rush hour when there are no yellow cabs you can immediately see on your phone whether there are Uber cars available in your vicinity. I would also imagine that a corporation can set up a charge account and one that doesn’t trust its employees can track/confirm that staff went only to a meeting and back and not out on the town with chums.

    I can only guess that the data they collect is terrific for their and others’ marketing purposes. Just as real estate might eventually become more valuable than the company that’s conducting business in that location so the data might eventually have more value than the car service.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    JML,

    My mother was in France during the war and shared lessons learned then to warn me about when I flew to Europe alone as a teen. I thought she was loopy. She said not to accept a letter or package or anything from a stranger who might approach me at the airport or before the trip and ask me to “just carry and mail this {to or from} France” for them “so it would arrive quickly.” Today airline check-in staff ask if we’ve packed our own suitcases and whether anyone has given us anything to carry on board for them…so little has changed in all these years.

    With news of mega-hacking of US Government employees’ private information through human resources, hacking of giant retailers like Target and Home Depot, how do citizens stay whole? Do we need to join a cash economy and pay for everything with cash? Here’s a company, Uber, that loudly and clearly announces what it’s up to and it doesn’t seem to affect the bottom line one bit. That’s the puzzle!

  6. Lucrezia Said:

    Not a good advertisement for Uber, and perhaps this outfit will go “Unter” should this way of doing business become widely known.

    I don’t use car services as a rule, but on rare occasions it’s the one with all the 7s in its telephone number. I pay by cash, and have never been pestered.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    Interesting that the law firm that represents Uber doesn’t advise the company to cool the surveillance part of their operation. It just tells them to make sure what they do is clear to customers. People wouldn’t want neighbors to set up telescopes to view goings-on in their homes and if they saw that they did, they’d buy shades or curtains. I’m curious why they aren’t troubled that so many services we rely on these days–smartphones, and Google for example–do the same digitally and they don’t blink.

  8. Judy M Said:

    Recently I hailed a Uber car in NYC after a long wait for a taxi. I asked the fee before I got in and it seemed reasonable during rush hour. After reading the Uber article, I don’t think many Uber users understand their risky management.

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