Uber hit the headlines after it was revealed the company broke Apple’s App Store rules by keeping tabs on users who had uninstalled the taxi app.
According to The New York Times, Uber kept a record of iPhones which had installed its app, even if it was removed and data deleted, in order to subsequently detect if it was reinstalled. This was a move to prevent drivers committing fraud by creating fake accounts used to request rides, which they would then accept in order to receive incentive bonuses from the company.
It even went as far as “geofencing” the feature so it could not be detected in or around Apple’s headquarters, and would not be picked up by the iPhone maker’s engineers – a strategy which worked until it was found by staff elsewhere.
The discovery led to a meeting between Travis Kalanick, the Uber chief, and Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, which led to the latter threatening to pull the Uber app from the App Store if it was not updated. Apple has strict policies related to user tracking.
According to TechCrunch, Uber said it “absolutely does not track individual users or their location if they’ve deleted the app”, but it also said “being able to recognise bad actors when they try to get back onto our network is an important security measure for both Uber and our users”.
Uber was also reported to have bought data from Slice Intelligence, which offers an email digest service called Unroll.me, including information related to rival ride app Lyft generated from receipts sent to users.
Slice confirmed it sells anonymised data based on ride receipts from Uber and Lyft in a blog. After the report sparked criticism, Slice said it was: “heartbreaking to see that some of our users were upset to learn about how we monetise our free service”, and: “while we try our best to be open about our business model, recent customer feedback tells us we weren’t explicit enough”.
While the events revealed now took place some time ago, they come as Uber is under pressure related to its corporate activities and ethos.