SAN FRANCISCO – For several months, some Texas Uber passengers have been recorded on video as they have been driven to the destinations. The video is stored online and could have been reviewed by members of Uber's security personnel if the driver had reported a problem with the passenger.
The video footage is part of a broad ride-hailing company initiative to capture more objective data on what is going on inside vehicles during Uber rides, where disputes between riders and drivers often play out without witnesses.
Uber has experienced many years of complaints about the safety of its riders and drivers, which are often left standing to fix episodes without the help of the company, and it has settled lawsuits claiming it does not do enough to protect passengers. But as Uber increases the practice of registering drivers and passengers, the company faces new privacy pressures.
Uber began the video recording program in Texas in July, and is conducting minor tests of the program in Florida and Tennessee. In November, a similar effort was announced in Brazil and Mexico to allow riders and drivers to record sound during a tour. The audio recording feature, first reported by Reuters, is managed by Uber and begins a recording if either the cyclist or the driver requests it.
At the end of the tour, the rider or driver has the opportunity to send the recording to Uber for review, but can't save it himself, a protection that Uber is built to prevent riders and drivers from registering and posting clips online, said the company.
Uber's video recording 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 alert drivers, and uses face 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 ask them for a fee of $ 5 a month. Recordings collected by the cameras are stored by Nauto, but available to Uber if the camera detects a crash, a serious security incident is reported or a driver requests the footage, according to a frequently asked question document prepared by Nauto.
Passengers' faces are blurred in the footage that was given to drivers, but visible to Uber employees who consider it during safety incidents.
“It's all about providing the right tools in the hands of our users. We want them to feel, while in the car, that the lights are on, says Sachin Kansal, director of project management at Uber who oversees the company's security functions. "We want to empower our users to have safer interactions on the platform."
The recording features are part of Uber's larger campaign to improve security, Kansal said, pointing to recent product changes that have allowed riders to call the emergency states from the Uber app and offered them PINs to confirm drive.
Work on recording audio of passengers and drivers in Brazil and Mexico will begin next month, Uber said. Drivers and passengers in these areas have been targets of crime, and some have been robbed or killed. The company said it would share the audio recordings with law enforcement agencies if asked to do so.
But when Uber is experimenting with the admission of riders and passengers in the United States, it will have to confront a raft of privacy issues. Laws that regulate whether a person can be admitted without knowledge vary from state to state, making it difficult for the company to roll out a recording function across the country.
"We want to make sure that we follow the privacy laws of the country wherever we launch," Kansal said. “This is a small pilot. Let's try a few things and see what works. "
Mrs. Fischer, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the recordings raised concerns about the privacy of drivers, who may feel they have to choose a video or audio recording to stay in good standing with Uber.
Some Uber drivers are already registering their passengers, although the practice has not been sanctioned by the company.
Last summer, Uber said a driver in St. Louis routinely streamed his passengers online. On November, a Canadian hockey team met with setbacks after their Uber driver posted a video online of team members gossiping about their coach. And in 2017, an Uber driver registered the company's then CEO Travis Kalanick who chastised him for complaining about falling salaries on the platform. Kalanick was removed from the company later that year.
Uber is expected to issue an openness report this year describing the number of vehicle accidents and safety incidents, the first report of its kind for the company.
Kevin Roose contributed reporting from San Francisco.