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Uber app will soon maybe track you 24/7, cry privacy warriors

EPIC fail for taxi app upstart – if claims come true

Uber's smartphone app will soon track and report back the whereabouts of its users even when they're not using the software, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) now fears.

The campaign group is also upset that the app may send copies of people's address books to Uber, and has filed a formal complaint to US watchdog the Federal Trade Commission to block any such snooping.

"In less than four weeks, Uber will claim the right to collect personal contact information and detailed location data of American consumers, even when they are not using the service," the complaint [PDF] states.

"These changes ignore the FTC's prior decisions, threaten the privacy rights and personal safety of American consumers, ignore past bad practices of the company involving the misuse of location data, pose a direct risk of consumer harm, and constitute an unfair and deceptive trade practice."

EPIC reckons Uber's new terms and conditions, introduced on May 28, will allow the taxi app to collect the location of its users via their smartphones' GPS tech even if the app is running in the background unused; if someone switches off the satellite service, the Uber app will use the smartphone's public IP address to get a rough idea of where they are geographically, we're told.

The privacy group also claims that contact books will be collected and phoned home to the San Francisco-headquartered biz; for users of Uber's Android app, there will be no way to stop this. iOS users will be able to withhold their contacts during the installation of the software.

Even if you can opt out of this information gobbling, EPIC insists it is too invasive. To bolster its case, it quotes tweets expressing disquiet about the new T&Cs.

EPIC wants the FTC to halt the background collection of location data and contact information by Uber; launch an investigation into the firm's business practices; and force the biz to publish its software algorithms so people can know how their data is being processed and to what end.

It's going to be tricky for EPIC to make some of these charges stick. For a start, location tracking is kinda Uber's whole point – it's difficult for drivers to find you otherwise. Similarly, there's no evidence that the biz is harvesting contacts willy-nilly.

The new terms and conditions are due to go into effect on July 15.

"There is no basis for this complaint," a spokesperson for Uber told The Register in a statement.

"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." ®


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