Uber’s new “Trip Experiences” – convenience at a cost?

Big Brother Watch Team / January 15, 2016

Uber has launched a new feature it hopes will bring entertainment to customer’s journeys. But will it have a cost to their privacy?

The feature, known as “Trip Experiences”, will allow app companies to integrate with Uber, inviting users to click onto their app whilst on a journey. Uber has provided examples of how it may work, including apps offering users a music playlist to listen to and adverts of various promotions available at the destination. The examples given make use of the journey time and where the users end destination is, but app developers will have scope to come up with even more ideas.

Uber claim they will give users “complete control” over whether they see these offers, but the proposals infer there will be no option to disable the feature entirely. Merely stating that it can be turned off “on an app by app basis” does not equate to complete control. Uber do also argue that users have to give permission to any app wishing to integrate with theirs, however it is widely acknowledged that the majority of consumers simply do not actually read these app permissions.

This all comes at a time when Uber’s privacy practices have faced scrutiny by US courts in the wake of two controversial incidents. One involved the breach of 50,000 driver’s personal data; the other involved Uber showing off their so called “God View” map, which followed 30 different users’ journeys in real time. Now, following a fine and an order to encrypt their customer’s geo-location data, Uber has the opportunity to make privacy more of a priority going forward. If they take “Trip Experiences” as a start, giving users clear notification about which apps may access their data, and providing them an opt-out from the feature entirely will be positive steps.

Uber’s proposals also highlight a growing trend in the tech world, whereby companies make the decision for consumers over the balance between privacy and convenience. As with most advancements of this kind, there is a right and a wrong way for tech companies to give more convenience to users. The wrong way is for companies to assume consumers are happy to have new features thrust on them under the guise of making their lives more convenient, particularly when feature may have a questionable impact on their data privacy. The right way is to offer consumers a choice about using any new features, and to make them aware of any additional data sharing. Innovation is not bad, but a lack of consideration for consumers’ desires to keep their data private certainly is.