This week, we are celebrating a company for not doing something outrageous.
There are reports (e.g. NPR) that Uber decided to pull the plug on one of its more invasive data collection schemes. If you had the Uber app, it was tracking your location for an additional five minutes after you finish your Uber trip, even if the app is closed. Now Uber says it will stop doing it.
Uber previously argued that the data of your whereabouts five minutes after you get off the Uber car can be used to "improve pickups, drop-offs, customer service, and to enhance safety."
This episode reveals a few things about mobile app technology. We learn that
- Apps are not really off when they are turned off
- Apps may be collecting all kinds of data about you and your phone 24/7/365, whether it is on or off (Previously, Uber has been caught tracking users even after they delete the app.)
- Unless the app developer discloses the information, the app user does not know what data are being collected by the app at any given time. This is a similar situation to not knowing whether the camera on your laptop is filming you or not.
- Won't do and couldn't do are two different things. For example, it's not a technical limitation that Uber did not track you beyond those five minutes. If they wanted to, they could have. So, users better trust the app developer when they say they won't do something.
As app developers say, if you don't like their behavior, don't use their service. In the case of Uber, it is a not an essential app so that statement is true.