Uber’s GPS tracking shouldn’t be worrisome for users

February 20, 2015 — by Eric Sze

The ridesharing service Uber is overtaking the traditional yellow taxi. 

With more than 8 million users, an average of 1 million rides day and 50,000 new drivers each month, the ridesharing service Uber is overtaking the traditional yellow taxi. 

To use the service, those requesting rides simply open a smartphone app and record their preferred vehicle type. Uber drivers within the area can accept the request from the user who is able to see the driver approaching them in real time. When the trip is finished, users submit a review of their driver, and pay for the service using the app with their credit card or Paypal. 

It seems like a perfect alternative to taxis or public transportation, both for busy cities and quiet suburbs. Yet the app has sparked controversy because of its ability to track a user’s location.

According to Uber’s privacy policy, the company collects the geolocation information so that users can view the drivers who are close to them, and drivers can locate users for pickup. The page also states that Uber will not disclose any user information without consent.

The data tracking Uber uses also serves for another purpose: data analytics. The real-time analytics allows Uber to determine when the demand for their service is high and when they are reaching their maximum capacity. To meet the demand during these hours, Uber can raise the cost of a ride as a way of attracting more drivers.

On the other hand, two ex-Uber employees have told BuzzFeed News that corporate employees have access to a service known as God View, which allows them to see the location of all operating Uber vehicles and the users who have requested a vehicle. 

Johana Bhuyian, a BuzzFeed journalist, was on her way to an interview with Josh Mohrer, the general manager of Uber New York. When she stepped out of the vehicle, Mohrer casually greeted her with, “There you are. I was tracking you,” as he held out his iPhone with her location on the screen. 

This kind of tracking raises questions over whether Uber’s services violate privacy. However, the reality is that such “violations” are common place. According to the New York Times, many different social networking companies, such as Facebook, Apple and Google, all use location trackers to gear content toward that user. 

Frequent users of Uber allow the app to know their daily routine — when and where they go to work, when and where they go after work, where their favorite place for lunch is — and then hands it over the National Security Agency, which requires that large companies send data to them. This could be seen as a breach of the user’s privacy. 

Yet the truth is that the NSA already knows all that information without even needing Uber to give them that data. Mobile phones and cellular enabled tablets that are connected to any US cellular tower — even foreign devices — are revealing their location to the NSA at this exact moment.

When mobile devices are connected to cellular networks, they appear on “registers” owned by the telephone company (Verizon, AT&T, etc.). The registration messages sent between the mobile device and cell tower contain information about the location based off the distance from the cell tower to the device There is almost no room to hide from the tracking, as almost 99 percent of the U.S. has cell phone coverage.

In this era, where technology has become such a significant part of our lives, location tracking is inevitable. 

For example, Facebook has updated its Terms of Service, which wZ implemented on Jan. 30, and says that Facebook “collects device locations, including specific geographic locations, such as through GPS, Bluetooth or WiFi signals.”

Apple also tracks users’ locations. It’s called “Frequent locations” and has appeared on iOS 7 and later software versions. Not only does the users’ iPhone store their last location, but knows the time spent at each location. 

In short, Uber’s location tracking isn’t a big deal, and in fact can be used to benefit the client. In the technologically driven world we live in today, people shouldn’t be so worried about GPS tracking. And if you still find it a problem you might as well shut down your Facebook and throw out your iPhone. Get used to companies knowing where you are. It’s now part of the deal.

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