Are there places in your school or community where you know you are being recorded? Whether in a grocery store, school lobby, train station or just walking down the street? How do you feel when you realize you are being watched and recorded? Does it make you feel more secure? Or does it make you uncomfortable or nervous?
Uber has experienced years of complaints about the safety of its riders and drivers, who are often left to sort out episodes without the help of the company, and it has settled lawsuits claiming that it does not do enough to protect passengers. But as Uber increases the practice of recording drivers and passengers, the company is facing new privacy pressures.
“Uber already has this treasure trove of highly personal data about people,” said Camille Fischer, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “When you pair surveillance during those trips, whether it’s over the driver or over the passenger, you are getting a more fine-tuned snapshot of people’s daily lives.”
Uber began the video recording program in Texas in July, and is conducting smaller tests of the program in Florida and Tennessee. In November, it announced a similar effort in Brazil and Mexico to allow riders and drivers to record audio during a trip. The audio recording feature, first reported by Reuters, is managed by Uber, and begins a recording if either the rider or driver requests it.
At the end of the trip, the rider or driver has the option to send the recording to Uber for review, but cannot save it themselves, a safeguard Uber built to prevent riders and drivers from recording each other and posting the clips online, the company said.
Uber’s video recording feature is a partnership with Nauto, a technology company that uses artificial intelligence to analyze video from vehicles. The company aims to detect potential collisions and warn drivers, and uses facial recognition to detect distracted drivers and remind them to keep their eyes on the road.
Under the partnership, Uber issues cameras to Texas drivers who request them at a fee of $5 a month. Footage gathered by the cameras is stored by Nauto but available to Uber if the camera detects a crash, a serious safety incident is reported or a driver requests the footage, according to a frequently-asked-questions document compiled by Nauto.
Passengers’ faces are blurred in the footage provided to drivers, but visible to Uber employees who review it during safety incidents.
“It is about providing the right tools in the hands of our users. We want them to feel, as they’re in the car, that the lights are on,” said Sachin Kansal, a director of project management at Uber who oversees the company’s safety features. “We want to empower our users to have safer interactions on the platform.”