Uber App Tracking iPhone Users Results in FTC Complaint

Uber App Tracking iPhone Users Results in FTC Complaint

Consumer Watchdog, a national nonprofit and nonpartisan public interest group filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Thursday, April 27. The complaint claims that the official Uber mobile App tracking individual iPhone users, which is a violation of Apple’s terms of use for app creators. However, the complaint alleges that the Uber app also tracks iPhone users even after the app is uninstalled and deleted from the user’s device.

The Uber app allegedly had workarounds engineered into its logic. The complaint states that according to a New York Times investigation, the Uber app “geo-fenced” the area around Apple’s headquarters so that Apple engineers there would not discover the deceptive tracking abuse.” Geofencing is when a feature of technology allows it to function (or not function) within a certain geographical area. For example, an online advertisement can be set to target viewers users who live or travel within New York City. Anyone outside of that area would not see the ad. Likewise, the ad could also be set to exclude internet audiences who live in Miami. In Uber’s case, the feature was the tracking and it was programmed not to work while within Apple headquarters.

A statement from Uber defends their practices:
“We absolutely do not track individual users or their location if they’ve deleted the app. As the New York Times story notes towards the very end, this is a typical way to prevent fraudsters from loading Uber onto a stolen phone, putting in a stolen credit card, taking an expensive ride and then wiping the phone — repeatedly. Similar techniques are also used for detecting and blocking suspicious logins to protect our users’ accounts. Being able to recognize known bad actors when they try to get back onto our network is an important security measure for both Uber and our users.”
It is unknown if the tracking also applies to Android users.

User’s app still has programming called Violation of terms of Service (VTOS). This feature is used to bans certain individuals who

Violate Uber’s terms of service – including opponents, competitors, and unruly passengers. This feature is still in use today. However, Uber also added another feature called Greyball. This addition to VTOS is used to avoid public officials in cities where Uber is banned or meeting resistance from authorities.

Another feature of Uber’s mobile app referred to as “Hell” tracked the movements drivers for ride-sharing competitor Lyft. Hell spied on Lyft drivers from 2014 to 2016 and informed Uber who was driving for both services. The data was then used to encourage drivers to work exclusively for Uber. It also served to cause longer delays for Lyft customers waiting for a ride. Uber randomizes its driver identification numbers in order to circumvent this type of tracking.

Yet another app function from Uber known as ”Heaven View” allegedly tracked high-profile politicians, celebrities, and ex-lovers of Uber employees.

Filing a complaint with the FTC does not guarantee the agency will look into or pursue the complaint. There is no update available yet.

Michelle writes about cyber security as well as how to protect your data online. She has worked in internet technology for over 20 years Michelle earned a B.S. in Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She conducts workshops focused on web technologies and enjoys public speaking along with her connected rescue mutt.