Uber hit with privacy complaint

Uber hit with privacy complaint
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A privacy group on Monday asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate ridesharing behemoth Uber for allegedly deceiving users and inappropriately collecting user data.

In the complaint, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) asks the FTC to investigate Uber’s business practices and stop the company from collecting some user data.

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The complaint centers around Uber’s new privacy policy, which was introduced in May and takes effect on July 15. It has drawn attention from privacy advocates who say it subjects users of the app to more data collection than before.

Under the new policy, the company could get permission to track users' location data even when they are not using the app. Even if a user has disabled the application’s access to their phone’s GPS, the company could use the phone’s IP address to obtain some location data.

EPIC has asked the FTC to stop Uber from collecting the location data from customers when they are not using the app. They have also asked the regulator to require that Uber delete location data once a user has finished their ride.

“This collection of user’s information far exceeds what customers expect from the transportation service,” the group said.

Uber can also obtain permission to access a user’s contacts through the new policy, though the company says that users can stop the app from accessing that data.

The EPIC complaint argues that Uber is deceiving users with that claim.

“Uber claims that it will allow users to opt-out of these features,” the group said. “However, this change in business practices places an unreasonable burden on consumers and is not easy to exercise: while iOS users can later disable the contact syncing option by changing the contacts setting on their mobile devices, the Android platform does not provide any such setting.”

In the complaint, EPIC paints Uber as a company with little regard for the privacy of its millions of customers. The group cites a report that Uber employees until recently had access to a feature — called “God View” — that allowed them to track users in real time. EPIC says Uber played fast and loose with that data, including giving it to candidates for jobs at the company.

An Uber spokesperson rejected the FTC complaint and said there is no basis for it.

"We care deeply about the privacy of our riders and driver-partners and have significantly streamlined our privacy statements in order to improve readability and transparency.  These updated statements don't reflect a shift in our practices, they more clearly lay out the data we collect today and how it is used to provide or improve our services," the spokesperson said.

Uber also says they have no current plans to use customer's imported contacts or use location data collected while the user does not have the app open, even though it would be allowed under the new policy.

FTC spokesman Jay Mayfield said the agency could not confirm the existance of investigations.

"We welcome complaints from consumers and consumer groups and review them carefully," he said.

Lawmakers in Washington have already focused on the consumer privacy questions raised by the popular ridesharing app.

Last year, Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenReport: Conyers settled wrongful dismissal complaint over 'sexual advances' Arianna Huffington denies Franken behaved inappropriately in response to new photos Right way and wrong way MORE (D-Minn.) contacted the company after it was reported that a top executive had suggested the firm might hire opposition researchers to dig up dirt on journalists who have been critical of the company. The Minnesota senator said at the time that the company’s privacy policy raised “serious concerns for me about the scope, transparency, and enforceability of Uber’s policies.”

The EPIC complaint was filed just under two weeks after one of the FTC’s commissioners said the regulator was not planning a significant enforcement push against on-demand economy companies like Uber. Still, the comments came at a workshop to determine what regulatory problems might need to be addressed in the fast-growing sector of the economy.

It is a high-stakes moment for the ridesharing firm. It is reportedly raising money at a $50 billion valuation and continuing to develop a powerful lobbying operation to make its case to regulators in Washington, at the state and local level and around the world.

— This story was updated at 1:46 p.m.