über – definition

I’m a huge fan of Über — the mobile app that gives you instant access to a chauffeured Town Car, SUV, or eco-friendly hybrid vehicle, 24 hours a day, in over 300 cities worldwide. As an Internet & privacy law attorney, however, I’ve had to convince myself to look the other way regarding its privacy policy, which permits the company to collect massive amounts of data about its customers. I was able to do so because in my own personal experience I’ve always found the company to be very responsible — i.e. in every city I’ve used them (except Chicago) their drivers are responsible and polite, and have consistently made me feel extremely comfortable. Über also has a rigorous vetting process, which includes federal, state, and local background checks of all prospective drivers; any history of violent crime, DUI or drug offenses, or any number of motor vehicle violations disqualifies a driver from working with Über. Sure, no system is foolproof, but out of the millions of rides Über has given in the five years since its inception, there have only been a few nefarious incidents reported.

Über’s new policy overhauls its collection practices, allowing the company to collect more detailed information on users and their contacts and to approximate customer locations based on nearby networks, even if they’ve opted out from location sharing.

Despite their track record, Über has come under fire for its data collection practices, most notably by Senator Al Franken (D. Minn.), so when Über recently announced that it would be updating its privacy policy, many folks were excited. After reviewing the updated policy, however, it looks like Über is going to be collecting more of our data, not less. Here are some of the things Über can do with your data under its new policy, which is slated to take effect Jul. 15, 2015:

  1. Access your contacts, and send communications to them in connection with your use of certain features, such as referrals, invites, split fare requests, or ETA sharing;
  2. Allow third parties to send you solicitations that Über thinks will be of interest to you;
  3. Share your trip and location data with third parties, including your employer;
  4. Provide details about your account and travel history to law enforcement officials, government authorities, or other third parties, if Über believes your actions are inconsistent with their user agreements, terms of service, or policies.

That last one is huge because it allows Über to give up your data to the government without making them get a subpoena first. (Let’s not even get started on the “nothing to hide” argument.) Unfortunately, this affront wasn’t created by Über’s new privacy policy, either; you can find comparable language in Section 3(e) of its existing policy too.

So what can/should you do about it? Well, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t use Über. I would, however, caution you from planning to commit any sort of crime before or after taking an Über trip. And here are a few, perhaps, less obvious tips:

  1. Some of the contact and location data collected by Über requires you to specifically grant permission(s) in the app. On iOS, if you change your mind later, you can disable those permissions by changing the settings on your iPhone (if you use an Android device you’re outta luck).
  2. You can opt out of receiving promotional messages using the in-app and online account settings, or following the instructions in any messages you receive.
  3. You could choose to cancel your account, which requires that you send an email to support@uber.com.
  4. After that, you could try creating a dummy account, using an alias, a fictitious address, and even a Google Voice phone number, however, although you may be able to protect some of your data from disclosure, the app has access to and transmits all of the identifying data that is unique to your mobile device; so if someone wants to connect the trip data to you, they will ultimately be able to do that.
  5. Speak out! Tell Über you want them to stop unfair data collection practices. You can contact Über’s legal department at privacy@uber.com, or Über Technologies, Inc., Attn: Legal, 1455 Market Street, Suite 400, San Francisco, CA 94103; or send a tweet to Über CEO Travis Kalanick (@travisk).