The widely criticised feature, introduced last year, tracked passengers for up to five minutes after a trip ended and was widely attacked
Uber is reportedly planning to cancel a feature that allowed it to track passengers’ location for up to five minutes after a trip ended, as part of a broader drive to improve its battered reputation on user privacy.
The move is unrelated to the appointment of Expedia’s Dara Khosrowshahi as chief executive, Uber chief security officer Joe Sullivan told Reuters.
Last November Uber released an update to its mobile application that no longer allowed users to share location data only while the software was in use, instead offering the option to always provide data or never provide it. The latter option required users to enter pick-up and drop-off points manually.
At the time Uber said the change was necessary to allow it to track users for several minutes after a ride was completed in order to help ensure their physical safety.
But users and privacy advocates harshly criticised the move, saying it was inappropriate for the company to gather data on where its users were physically located if the information wasn’t needed for booking a trip. Uber had been involved in previous controversies over how it handled user data.
Uber said it never actually began post-trip tracking of iPhone users and suspended it for the Android software.
This week the company plans to restore the option to share location data only when the app is in use for iPhone users and will bring it to the Android app at a future date, according to Uber chief security officer Joe Sullivan. The move should be announced on Tuesday, Sullivan said.
‘Lack of expertise’
He said Uber’s mistake was to ask users to provide more data without explaining what would be offered in return. If post-trip tracking were to be rolled out again Uber would allow customers to opt into it, Sullivan said.
He said Uber’s commitment to privacy had been obscured by a “a lack of expertise” in the area before his appointment in 2015.
Uber is currently seeking to recover from a series of crises that culminated in the departures of chief Travis Kalanick and other executives under pressure from shareholders.
Khosrowshahi, chief executive of Expedia, has been selected by the board and has accepted the post, according to a number of reports. The company confirmed it has chosen a chief executive but said it would inform staff before making the appointment public.
Uber has raised more than $15 billion (£10bn) from private investors and is planning an as-yet unscheduled public offering, but has suffered from persistent losses, a high-profile trade secrets lawsuit filed by Waymo, a company owned by Google parent Alphabet, and damage to its reputation caused by various scandals.
Two weeks ago the firm settled a US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) complaint that it failed to protect the personal information of drivers and passengers. As part of the settlement Uber agreed to an FTC audit every two years for the next 20 years.
The data-sharing changes are to be followed by more updates in the coming year aimed at improving privacy and security, Sullivan said.
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