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Uber to end controversial post-trip location tracking feature: report

Uber has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons including sexual harassment charges, and other forms users privacy violations. After reports confirmed last year that the Uber app tracks user’s location even after a ride has ended, the company has now reinstated location tracking only after user consent is taken, according to this Reuters report. The development comes after Uber replaced its founder and CEO Travis Kalanick with Expedia’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

While rolling out an update (Version no: 3.222.4) for Uber app last November, the app requested special permissions to track GPS location while it runs in the background and after the ride has ended. The company itself admitted in a blog post that “Uber collects your location data from the time of trip request through to five minutes after the trip ends”. The reason that Uber gave for this: “We do this to improve pickups, drop-offs, customer service, and to enhance safety.”

Timeline of Uber’s locations tracking exercise

It is important to note that Uber’s location tracking exercises have been happening since 2015, when it first updated the app in July 2015, giving it the ability to track and store user location even after the app is closed manually, and even after disabling GPS settings. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a US-based non-profit research firm filed a formal complaint at that time with US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and termed Uber’s location tracking as “an unlawful and deceptive trade practice”. The complaint paid off, as noted by TechCrunch: Uber signed a settlement with New York State Attorney General in January 2016, promising to encrypt all geo-information and location data while being transferred from user’s phone to Uber’s servers.

Later in November 2016,  Uber provided an option for users to manually turn off location sharing after the backlash from critics. But the update only meant that users were forced to choose between allowing Uber to collect location all the time (even after exiting the app), or no location sharing at all. Critics weren’t impressed by this either.

What are the new changes?

The company claims that users will now have full ability to control how users share location data. Users can now choose to share location only while using the app, thereby restoring user privacy, instead of snooping on users after the ride has ended. This is expected to be rolled for iOS users starting this week, and for Android users in the coming weeks, according to the Reuters report.

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Joe Sullivan, Uber’s chief security officer told Reuters that “Uber made a mistake by asking for more information from users without making clear what value Uber would offer in return”. He apparently admitted that the company had “a lack of expertise” when it comes to user privacy. The company has also agreed to two-year mandatory FTC auditing in the US for the next 20 years.

Also Read: A deconstruction of Uber and Ola’s terms and conditions in India

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