Uber on Tuesday rolled out the first part of a campaign to clean up its image, killing off a feature that allowed it to track riders’ movements after their trips concluded, with no ability to opt out.
Uber’s decision to stop post-trip tracking comes exactly two weeks after the Federal Trade Commission announced the company had settled allegations that it misrepresented the security of its users’ data. Though the settlement has yet to be made final, FTC spokesperson Juliana Gruenwald Henderson told VICE News that “the FTC’s order requires Uber to implement a privacy program where the company is supposed to devote more attention to privacy issues.”
At the time the feature was introduced, Uber defended the move by saying it was aimed at “sharpening our ETA estimates to identifying the best pick-up location on any given street.” But Reuters reports that Uber thought post-trip tracking “could help in ensuring customers’ physical safety.” Uber spokesperson Melanie Ensign told VICE News that the Tuesday announcement is “unrelated” to the FTC settlement, as “the product changes have been in the works for a while.”
“We’re now committing to more transparency and choice around our location-data collection practices,” Ensign said. “While our efforts last fall around post-trip location were aimed at improving the user experience, our riders let us know we missed the mark.”
Uber, whose board recently named Expedia chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi as the replacement for ousted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, has been putting out fires related to user privacy for about as long as it has been around. These crises are what prompted the FTC case.
In 2014, Uber executives used an internal tool called “God View” to track the movements of a reporter for BuzzFeed News. Months later, reports surfaced that men were using a “lost and found” feature to harass female drivers, and that male drivers were using Uber-provided anonymous phone numbers to harass female passengers after their rides had concluded.
And “God View” — despite being first publicly revealed in 2014 — was reportedly used by Uber employees well after that to spy on celebrities, politicians, and other users. In June 2016, Uber revealed that a September 2014 hack compromised the information of more than 100,000 drivers (also something that was mentioned in the FTC settlement).
To help fix its problems, Uber tapped former Facebook security chief Joe Sullivan as its chief security officer in 2015. Speaking to Reuters on Tuesday, Sullivan said that while Uber was making gains in privacy and data security, the company had previously suffered from “a lack of expertise.”