On Tuesday, Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Richard Blumenthal sent letters to Uber and Lyft expressing privacy concerns about a third-party advertising program previously reported on by Motherboard.
Alfi, a self-described "AI enterprise SAAS platform company powering computer vision with machine learning models" recently announced it would manufacture and ship10,000 digital tablets that use facial recognition to personalize content or advertisements for passengers and gauge their reactions to Uber and Lyft drivers. The company claims that drivers can earn up to $350 in revenue so long as passengers actually engage with the content or ads, and claimed that the tablets have reached hundreds of drivers in Miami as well as drivers in London.
All this is part of a nationwide program Alfi hopes to launch but for which details are currently scant, beyond investor presentations and a recent IPO which suggest the company wants to take advantage of a surge in ride-hail demand amid general precarity among ride-hail drivers to accelerate the growth of its adtech platform.
“When passengers use ride-sharing services, they want to be safe and secure. They also have a reasonable expectation of privacy. We were therefore deeply disturbed to read that your drivers are installing digital tablets in the back seats of their cars to deliver targeted advertisements,” the letter reads.
“These tablets are equipped with cameras that film passengers when they take an Uber or Lyft ride. The tablets then use artificial intelligence to assess their age, gender, race, location, and assumed interests based on their appearance, all of which they can use to show targeted advertisements to the Uber and Lyft passengers,” the senators continue. “According to news reports, the tablets then even provide information to advertisers about the passengers’ reactions to the ads, which seems even more intrusive.”
The senators end the letter with a list of questions for the companies to answer by July 12th, including: whether the firms have business relationships with Alfi, whether they have reviewed the program at all, if the adtech platform connects to the ride-hail apps, whether the program falls under Uber or Lyft's privacy policies, numbers on how many drivers have installed the tablets, and more information on the ads, content, data, and revenue generated by them.
"Lyft leaves third-party advertisements to be regulated by local laws, and drivers should keep in mind the impact they could have on riders,” Lyft said in a statement to Motherboard.
“Uber does not have any relationship with Alfi. If drivers are participating in this program, they are doing so independently with Alfi, and would be subject to local regulations,” Uber said in a statement.
Alfi did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
This article has been updated with comment from Uber.