The free service could improve the image of the San Francisco-based global ride-hailing giant, which recently implemented a “No Mask, No Ride” policy.
Uber told Reuters the information can be accessed in a few hours, as the company considers COVID-19 an emergency that could cause death or serious injury.
Under the terms of the deal, Uber would provide government health officials – in all areas where it operates – with data about who used its services and when. As a result, health agencies could reach affected users and urge them to quarantine, the company officials said.
“This data could be potentially life-saving in cities where many people use those services,” Mieka Smart, an epidemiology professor at Michigan State University and a member of the COVID-19 contact tracing workgroup in Flint, told the news service.
A Reuters check of contact tracing policies of nearly three dozen U.S. state and local health departments revealed that most did not use Uber’s data to track the virus spread, including Texas and Florida, the two states that have seen a rise in new infections.
Uber has long provided data to U.S. law enforcement officials. Lyft told Reuters it has provided data to U.S. and Canadian health officials, but declined to provide further details, citing privacy reasons.
“In the end, we need all the data we can to be effective,” Michael Reid, a physician who heads the San Francisco’s contact tracing program, told Reuters. “Whether it’s Uber or Lyft, or the priest telling you who was in church on Sunday.”
In May, Uber required drivers and riders to wear masks for the foreseeable future. The rule was initially scheduled to expire at the end of June, but that has been extended.
At the start of the pandemic in March, Uber sidelined drivers and riders who were infected or exposed to the coronavirus. At the time, Uber said it would have a team available to support public health authorities in their response to the epidemic.
Earlier this month, Uber said it was buying Postmates, the food delivery service, for nearly $2.7 billion in stock. When the deal closes next year, it will give the company’s Uber Eats division more depth in U.S. food delivery.