A ridesharing customer holds their phone inside a car, worried about how ridesharing apps' privacy policies impact her.

Ridesharing apps are a popular way for commuters to get to their destinations, but recent events have put ridesharing companies’ privacy policies into question.

 

Increasingly, people are choosing ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft over traditional cab services.  This is partly because the rates are cheaper, but also because passengers can lower their fare further by carpooling with people traveling in the same area.

Anyone who has used an app like Uber knows that it uses GPS technology to show where drivers and passengers are, in real-time.  This in itself raises some questions about privacy.  But recently, ridesharing apps have given travelers even more to worry about.

Privacy Policy Precedents

Uber has granted its employees access to data on thousands of customers, including when and where each client travels.  This data even includes how long a customer stayed at a particular location. The implications of this are far-reaching.  Data breaches of this kind could leak the personal travel details of thousands of customers.  Additionally, this information could be used to spy on politicians and other high-profile figures.

Uber currently has 40 million users, claiming that these info distribution practices are in compliance with their legal responsibilities and offer sufficient protection for their users.  However, in 2014, Uber revealed a “God View” tool that displayed an aerial view for tracking customers in real time.  These examples raise suspicions about how much ridesharing apps care about customer privacy.

What Kind of Data Is at Stake?

The privacy policies of ridesharing apps bring to light how these companies store, employ and keep our personal data safe.  Most of these apps require that users connect their social media profiles to their account.  Sites like Facebook are giant databases of personally identifiable information (PII). If these details are leaked, customers’ personal, professional, and social lives may be at stake.

Facebook

Using-link Facebook accounts can be an easy method for new users to sign up and log in, but linking to social media accounts means that apps are also collecting information unrelated to getting a ride.  Birthdays, friend lists, which college or university you attend, and interests are also gathered.

Credit Card Account Information

In addition to these concerns, how ridesharing apps handle our payment credentials has also come into question. These apps are usually cashless and require their users to link credit card accounts to pay for rides.  While this seems like a more convenient payment method, our account numbers are only as safe as these companies’ privacy policies.

How Your Personal Information Can Be Leaked

What does this mean for ridesharing passengers at large? Generally, a bulk of the information is collected for marketing, general usage statistics, and app functionality purposes (service improvements).  This information can also be sold to advertisers or third parties.

There are three ways in which a data breach could occur: the information could be leaked during the transmission of it to third parties, the ridesharing company itself may mishandle the information, or the data might be mismanaged by advertisers or third parties.

Two woman stand on the side of the road, having used a ridesharing app to order a ride.

It’s undeniable that ridesharing apps are convenient and combatible with busy lifestyles, so it’s important to protect your privacy while taking advantage of ridesharing apps’ features.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Privacy?

Ridesharing apps are obviously an innovative idea; in an increasingly interconnected world, the concept of using technology to facilitate carpooling is incredibly useful.  Ridesharing is both a green way to go about your daily commute and an inexpensive way to reach destinations inaccessible via public transit.

But because extremely sensitive personal data is at stake here, choosing a ridesharing app is not a trivial matter.  These companies’ privacy policies are available on their websites and should specify what individual user data is being collected.  All apps collect usage statistics and other general facts, but privacy policies tell you which companies send out user specific details (credit card numbers, birthdays, emails, etc.) to third parties.

You can also read other users’ reviews to see what they have to say about their experience.  Reviews are very telling of how a company handles their business, how much they value their customers, and how their policies affect the end-users.

The Future of Ridesharing Apps

Conventional car services like taxicabs and black cars/limos are regulated by law.  With the emergence of apps like Uber taking over the car service scene, questions have been raised concerning legality and classification. Institutions of political power, like the U.S. Senate, have come to ask companies like Uber about their privacy policies.  This industry is still fairly new, and comprehensive security standards have yet to be put in place.

Until then, it’s always a good idea to keep yourself updated on the privacy policies of the services you are using.  Today, data breaches carry the weight of bank robberies in decades past.  Because all of our information can be accessed in one place, it must be properly safeguarded.

While app developers should be obligated to make sure their software protects the data being collected, it is still the responsibility of the user to educate themselves on how their data is being handled.