Uber will stop its controversial practice of tracking users for up to five minutes after a trip has ended, as it attempts to turn around its mired public image.
A change to the Uber app due to roll out this week will allow users to share location data only when actively using the app, stopping further tracking once a trip is complete, according to Uber’s chief security officer Joe Sullivan.
The change comes as Uber recruits former Expedia chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi to head the company, filling the void left by ousted Uber founder Travis Kalanick and other top executives in June.
Sullivan leads a team of about 500 that has been working to beef up customer privacy at Uber since he joined in 2015. The chief security officer, who is a member of the executive leadership team that has been co-running Uber since Kalanick left, said: “We’ve been building through the turmoil and challenges because we already had our mandate.”
An update to the app made last November eliminated the option for users to limit data gathering to only when the app is in use, instead forcing them to choose between letting Uber always collect location data or never collect it.
Uber said it needed permission to always gather data in order to track riders for five minutes after a trip was completed, which the company said could help in ensuring customers’ physical safety. The option to never track required riders to manually enter pickup and drop-off addresses.
But the changes were met with swift criticism by some users and privacy advocates who called them a breach of user trust by a company already under fire for how it collects and uses customers’ data. Uber said it never actually began post-trip tracking for iPhone users and suspended it for Android users.
Sullivan said Uber made a mistake by asking for more information from users without making clear what value Uber would offer in return. If Uber decides that tracking a rider’s location for five minutes is valuable in the future, it will seek to explain what the value is and allow customers to opt in to the setting, he said.
Sullivan said Uber was committed to privacy but had previously suffered “a lack of expertise” in the area.
The change comes two weeks after Uber settled a US Federal Trade Commission complaint that the company failed to protect the personal information of drivers and passengers, and was deceptive about its efforts to prevent snooping by its employees.
Uber agreed to conduct an audit every two years for the next two decades to ensure compliance with FTC requirements. The location-tracking changes will initially only be available to iPhone users, but Uber intends to bring parity to Android devices, Sullivan said.
The changes are part of a series of updates expected in the coming year to improve privacy, security and transparency at Uber, Sullivan said.
Uber’s stance is expected to change on a number of things under the leadership of the Iranian American Khosrowshahi, who has been vocal in his criticism of Donald Trump. Khosrowshahi will have to reform workplace culture, recruit new executives including chief financial officer and chief operating officer, and deal with various legal wrangles.
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