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Image credit: AOL/Steve Dent

Uber kills plans to track passengers after their trips

It was gathering location data from users five minutes after rides ended.
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AOL/Steve Dent

Following criticism by consumers and privacy groups, Uber will change an app setting that lets it track you after a trip ends, company security chief John Sullivan told Reuters. Back in December, it stopped allowing users to limit tracking to "while using" the app, offering only "always" or "never" location tracking options. A new clause stated that "always" meant it could track you for up to five minutes after a ride ended, even if you weren't using the app.

App users got just one chance to opt in or out once the update rolled out. Uber justified the changes by saying they used the data to "improve pickups, drop-offs, customer service, and to enhance safety." However, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) pointed out in December last year that "there are many legitimate reasons that a rider would want privacy in their final destination, perhaps stopping the ride a block or three away from their true destination."

The EFF added that opting out by choosing "never" wasn't a great option either, as it required users to manually enter addresses, making the app much less usable. Switching back and forth before and after rides requires a lot menu diving and manipulation.

As a mea culpa, Sullivan said that Uber shouldn't have made the change without explaining what it would offer in return. He added that the tracking was never actually implemented for iPhone users, and was suspended on Android. However, Uber may yet decide to implement the tracking in the future, but would explain it better to customers and allow them to opt in to the setting if it did, he said.

Uber has been criticized in the past for using its "God View" to track individual riders and saving user "fingerprints" on iPhones, even if they're wiped. Sullivan, however, said his 500-strong team has working on making the app more privacy-oriented since he arrived in 2015. Whether or not new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi can fix the rest of its toxic culture cultivated under ex-CEO Travis Kalanick remains to be seen.

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