U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) recently wrote an open letter to Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber, requesting additional transparency around the ridesharing company’s changes to its user location data collection policy.
The letter is reportedly a direct response to an app update in November that changed the wording of location services permissions from “while using the app” to a less specific binary of “always” or “never.” Franken’s letter contends that Uber users should have a greater ability to directly control their personal data than what Uber currently provides.
Uber has said that the change in its policy and its wording was necessary to be able to collect location info for up to five minutes after a trip is completed, allegedly as a way to help it improve its pickup and dropoff location identification and improve fraud prevention practices.
In the letter, Sen. Franken wrote: “Given that the ridesharing experience is still rapidly evolving, Uber’s latest update may provide important consumer benefits. But renewed allegations regarding Uber employees’ past abuse of customer data underscore the continued need for consumers to be able to make informed decisions about whether and with whom they share such sensitive information, and they must be assured that, when the information is shared, it will receive the utmost protection. To restore users’ control over their location data, I urge you to consider implementing in-app options that are distinct from operating system-level permissions.”
The renewed allegations Franken refers to is a reference to the fact that, last week, former security staff members at Uber confirmed that the supposedly defunct “God view” function is still being used by Uber employees.
The company’s internal tool called “God view,” which enables tracking of customers, made headlines back in 2014 when it was reported that a reporter’s ride was tracked without her permission and a senior executive suggested digging into the private lives of journalists that wrote negatively about the company.