Uber’s audio recording feature sparks worries

Deccan Chronicle.  | Tushar Kaushik

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On its website, Uber has stated: “To maintain the privacy of parties in the vehicle, the recorded content is encrypted, and neither riders nor drivers can listen to it.” (AFP Photo)

Hyderabad: As a safety feature, Uber has decided to provide passengers and drivers the feature of audio recording their trips without requiring to seek the consent of the other party. While drivers have welcomed the move, data privacy experts expressed reservations, calling it an invasion of privacy and raising concerns about the possibility of recorded data being hacked.

Srinivas Kodali, a researcher and digital rights activist, compared the feature to spyware.

“It’s like my phone is recording me, but I’m not aware of it; that’s what we call spyware,” he explained. He believes Uber drivers will feel compelled to accept the feature. “From the passengers’ perspective, if either party is recording it via Uber app there needs to be a notification sent. Without that, I don’t believe it is okay, it is pretty much like spying on the other person, and that can’t be legal in any sense,” he said.

On its website, Uber has stated: “To maintain the privacy of parties in the vehicle, the recorded content is encrypted, and neither riders nor drivers can listen to it.”
 However, Kodali pointed out that Uber’s data was recently allegedly hacked by a hacker. The activist said that if the ride is booked for the passenger by someone else, the issue of third-party data sharing arises. “What prevents the driver from recording audio on his own using a separate app?” It could happen anyway, but now that it’s on the platform, it could become a de facto practice,” he said.

S.Q. Masood, a social activist, who filed a PIL last year challenging the government’s use of facial recognition technology, said such a feature that allowed recording without explicit consent was illegal under the Supreme Court’s Puttaswamy verdict, which guarantees the right to privacy.

In response to Uber’s assurance that the recordings would be encrypted, he stated, “But we don’t know whether this data will be shared with anyone else.” Previously, he said, a well-known hospitality chain of franchised hotels was discovered to have shared customer data with police departments and other agencies.
Shaik Salauddin, national general secretary of the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers (IFAT), stated, “It is a good feature and we welcome it, but customers’ KYC should be completed first. The aggregator firms only do it for drivers.”

This newspaper contacted Uber for a reply, but none was forthcoming.

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