It is easy to see why Uber is so popular.
The app offers a sense of comfort—Uber allows you to see the name of your driver, his or her picture, phone number, customer service rating, and all in real-time. Your assigned car appears as a moving dot on a map, making its way toward you, as you wait painfully outside in the middle of a New England deluge in December.
Much less comforting, however, are the recent controversies surrounding Uber that have surfaced over the past two months—ranging from price gouging to threats and safety concerns, and most notably, Uber’s invasion of user privacy.
Last week, Uber Technologies was valued at $41 billion thanks to a recent string of investments. The service has expanded to more than 250 cities in 50 countries, and the private company said in a blog post that it is six times as large as it was one year ago, and its growth is only accelerating.
The long list of the company’s problems that have been coined “Ubergate” continue today. Most recently, Uber has been banned in India, Spain, and Thailand after a woman from New Dehli accused a driver of rape on Monday. Over the past month alone, the company that has become synonymous with travel has been bombarded by countless PR complaints that have left people wondering what the hell is going on at the startup.
Bear with me as I take a closer look at why Uber is going so fast now that it could ultimately make a wrong turn.
Last month, Uber infuriated the media when it was reported that an executive publicly floated the idea of hiring a team of researchers to investigate the private lives of journalists who criticized the startup.
After the executive’s statements, many took umbrage at a post two years ago on the company’s blog that bragged how Uber had tracked the rides of users who went somewhere other than their own home at night, and left from the same location the following morning. It coined these “rides of glory” as potential one-night stands, and Boston topped a list of cities in America that were studied in the report, despite the post later being removed.
A recent Boston.com report also highlighted a class-action suit involving a mysterious $8.75 “Logan Massport Surcharge & Toll” for rides to the airport, and with the company’s surge pricing policy, rides could cost two to seven times more than normal on a night out in the city. During Uber’s unpredictable surge pricing hours, the company will adjust prices relative to the demand and supply, down to the minute or second.
Everyone from members of the U.S. Congress to BuzzFeed has demanded an explanation of the company’s policies, and Uber isn’t the only firm under attack.
Similar to Uber, Facebook makes business of track everything we do, whom we know, and what our preferences are. Early on, confusing privacy laws left users puzzled about what was being shared publicly and what was making its way into the hands of advertisers. Facebook is now updating its privacy laws after the New Year, and over 1 billion users will click “accept” to allow Facebook to track their location and all data associated with the service, including all contact information.
These apps are useful to us, and seemingly central to the everyday. They help us uncover new food, music, and movies. They help us make new connections and get back in touch with old friends. We must recognize, however, that although we gain from being connected in these apps, the subsequent invasion into our private lives makes our personal information easily available to manipulate—revealing data we thought was secure in the apps’ online server.
So, will Uber self-destruct after all of these complaints? Is it time to go back to our taxis?
No, that is not going to happen. The majority of these millions of people are not leaving Facebook or Uber, but I think there are many people, like myself, who find what Mark Zuckerberg and Uber executives are doing with our personal data—including photos and credit card information—should be very alarming.
I have decided to delete my Uber app. I believe it is more of an experiment than anything else. Resignedly, I must admit it will be a challenge—especially as a college student living in a major city, but I hope that in the future when I’m picked up in a Boston rainstorm, I will not only know where my car is going, but I will be guaranteed that my personal data is safe and will not be manipulated.
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic