Yesterday, Uber finally rolled out several features it announced back in November. Instead of helping the app’s reputation for creepery, however, Uber somehow managed to make it worse. Travis, you jokester!
Both features—integration with Snapchat and the ability to “Uber to a person”—are part of a broad app overhaul. But while the added Snapchat capabilities are pretty straightforward—you can now further annoy your fellow passengers and driver by snapping with “custom Uber filters” while on the ride—the “Uber to a person” component is slightly more interesting.
Here’s Uber’s very excited explanation, which is neatly summed up by the accompanying dystopian tagline, “People are the new places”:
Where are you? Where’s that again? These are common questions we ask friends and family when meeting up. If you’re catching up with friends when out of town, meeting your sister at the mall, or joining coworkers for drinks, now you can skip the back and forth. Just Uber directly to them!
Now, instead of plugging in an address, you can sync up your contacts and choose a friend’s name. The lucky buddy will receive a request from Uber—via push notification if they’re an Uber user, and via text message if they’re not—to provide their location. If they accept, their location is then transmitted to the driver, and it becomes the user’s destination. In other words, if you often find yourself out on the town but too wasted to figure out where to tell your friends to meet you, this feature was made for you.
Of course, any feature that asks for a location is bound to bring up privacy issues, particularly for people who didn’t even sign up for the app in the first place. Uber, however, is dismissive of these concerns.
“We have an entire privacy team that thinks through these questions,” a spokesperson told Gizmodo.
The spokesperson told us that location requests are “static,” and expire after half an hour. For non-Uber users, the company claims the requests disappear after the allotted time; For Uber users, the app will maintain records of where they went, but not who they sent the request to. The spokesperson added that a user must give his or her location every time.
But given Uber’s previous privacy hijinks, these assurances ring just a tad hollow. Earlier this month, the app rolled out a different update that asked users for permission to track them even when they weren’t using the app. A few days later, it was hit with a lawsuit filed by a former employee who claimed that workers used the app to peep on celebrities and former lovers. The lawsuit was particularly troubling given that Uber claimed several years ago that it had already dealt with the problem.
Welcome to our new dystopian nightmare, where people are the new places and drivers are meat-based algorithms!