Uber has decided to remove a controversial feature that allowed the company to track the location of users even when they weren’t using the ride-hailing app.
Uber Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan confirmed the change to Reuters, ahead of a planned announcement on Tuesday. The update will initially roll out to iPhone users later this week, though Sullivan tells Reuters that the company will introduce an update for Android users, as well.
An app update introduced last year prompted users to allow Uber to track their location even when not using the application, or to not share their location at all. Previously, users had the option of sharing their location only when using the app.
Uber defended the update as a measure to enhance rider safety, and to improve pick-up and drop-off locations. The company also said it would only collect location data for up to five minutes after each completed ride. But the decision was met with criticism from privacy advocates who said the company was limiting users’ control over their personal data.
Sullivan now acknowledges that Uber mishandled the situation, telling Reuters that the company did not adequately explain why such location tracking would benefit users. Sullivan says the decision to reverse course is one of several steps that Uber will take to enhance transparency and privacy, following months of tumult and scandal that have plagued the ride-hailing service.
Sullivan tells Reuters that Uber has suffered from “a lack of expertise” in privacy matters, though he says the decision is not related to the recent shakeup in the company’s executive leadership. Uber is expected to name Dara Khosrowshahi as its new CEO, according to reports, replacing former CEO Travis Kalanick, who resigned from the position under pressure from investors earlier this summer.
“We’ve been building through the turmoil and challenges because we already had our mandate,” Sullivan tells Reuters.