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Uber Should Restore User Control to Location Privacy

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Uber has rolled out a new update to its iPhone App—Version 3.222.4—which removed the option to limit location tracking to “While Using,” a privacy setting in the iOS that provides users control of when their information is shared with the app.

Upgrade TextYou might not have noticed right away. The November 23 update was described simply as, “This update fixes an issue affecting some riders who weren’t able to request a ride,” with no mention of the sharp change in privacy practices.

New ChoiceAfter you open the app, however, it immediately hits you with a request for location data—users can now only choose “Always” or “Never,” eliminating the fine grain-based “While Using” control previously available. The first request includes an explanation and a URL for more information, but if you choose no, afterwards it is a stark black and white message. If you choose yes, you won’t be presented with the option in-app again.

As explained on the Uber site, the planned uses for the new “Always” permission is limited to three cases:

• When you are interacting with the Uber app and the app is foregrounded and visible.
• When you’re on a trip: from the time you request a trip until when the trip is ended or cancelled by the driver, even if the Uber app is running in the background and not visible to you.
• Up to five minutes after the driver ends a trip, even if the Uber app is in the background.

Uber justifies the location collection to “improve pickups, drop-offs, customer service, and to enhance safety.” For example, Uber could notice that the driver dropped you off on the far side of a busy street, forcing a potentially risky crossing. This change is not part of the Uber privacy policy, which remains unchanged, but rather a separate policy statement. (The new page is not linked from the privacy policy, nor from Uber’s iOS App Permission page). Under that policy, Uber was already tracking trips through the driver, so the five minutes of additional tracking is the most substantive change.  

Many people have raised concerns about this change, both questioning Uber’s need for post-ride tracking and the change away from user control. These concerns are quite understandable—there are many legitimate reasons that a rider would want privacy in their final destination, perhaps stopping the ride a block or three away from their true destination.

Google Using LocationFor each of these scenarios, the “Always” setting is not actually necessary (explained in detail below, for those who want to do a deeper dive into how the API works).  There are two main differences with the Always setting. First, Uber could track your location when the app is not running, using location events to open the app. Second, when the app is using your location under the Always permission, there is no special notice through the OS. (As opposed to, for example, if you are using Google Maps for turn-by-turn directions with the “While Using” location setting, you will get a notice when the app is tracking in the background.)

If Uber is true to its privacy policy, its first advantage is foreclosed. The Uber privacy policy limits app location collection to “when the app is running in the foreground or background.” Until Uber changes its privacy policy, it should neither be able to do any tracking when the app is closed, nor relaunch the closed app to conduct tracking. The second major difference is simply hiding the fact of tracking from the user interface.

How to Turn the “Always” Tracking Off

Privacy conscious users can still use the app with the Never setting active, but the usability is quite clunky, especially if you don’t happen to know the street address of your starting and ending points.  Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Uber, and you can toggle to Never.

Lyft PermissionsWith this setting, one can switch back and forth between Always and Never and simulate “While Using,” but this is also awkward and easy to get wrong. Or, of course, one could use alternatives like Lyft, which retain the “While using” permission.

<Technical Interlude>

Uber could obtain the location information with the “While using” setting, which is known as WhenInUse in the iOS API. Though you might understandably think that “While using” is limited to when the app is in the foreground, both Always and WhenInUse permissions allow an app to access the users’ location while in the background. (Apple’s WWDC video provides a great explanation, starting about 6 minutes in.)

A key difference is the blue bar indicator, telling the user that the app is tracking location. As Apple explains, “Enabling the location-updates background mode ensures that an app continues to receive location events while in the background. When the app moves to the background, the system adds the location-services indicator to the status bar to let the user know that an app is using location services.”  This allows for transparency to the user, which reminds the user that they can close the app, and stop the tracking.

However, “[f]or services that launch your app, you need to request (and be granted) ‘Always’ authorization from the user.” Thus, the Always setting allows continued tracking while the app is off, and can use these location events to launch the app. The Always setting is also needed for things like the ‘significant location change service,’ or the ‘region monitoring service.’ These services are not necessary for Uber’s planned use.

The iOS will cease sending location information WhenInUse when the user affirmatively closes the app or when it is terminated by iOS (perhaps because you opened another app that needed that memory space). If users believe that Uber’s new uses are right for them, and want to be sure that their location will be tracked, even if they open other apps, they will need to enable “Always.”

</Technical Interlude>

Changing back to allowing the “While using” setting will help reassure users that they will be able to limit the location data use to the limited set of information proposed to be collect, at the OS level, provide transparency through the blue bar indicator, and help show Uber’s commitment to protecting users while still allowing for limited, transparent use of background location information.

Uber has come a long way since an executive was caught using God view to track the location of Uber riders and customers without obtaining permission. Indeed, earlier this year, we gave Uber five stars on the 2016 Who Has Your Back report, which awards companies for best practices in protecting users from overly broad government information requests.  It is disappointing that Uber has moved away from empowering users to have more control over their location privacy. We hope Uber chooses to honor and respect its users and reverts this change.



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Technicalleigh
5 hours ago
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SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
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Technicalleigh
15 hours ago
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Pebble’s Next Step

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Dear Pebblers,

Thank you all for being such loyal supporters and champions of the Pebble community and brand. You helped start something fantastic when you backed our first Kickstarter project (and shout-out to the first inPulse users). Since then, we’ve shipped over 2 million Pebbles around the world!

However—due to various factors—Pebble is no longer able to operate as an independent entity. We have made the tough decision to shut down the company and no longer manufacture Pebble devices. This news has several major implications, and we hope to answer as many questions as possible here, in Kickstarter Update #17, and on our Support site.

#pebbleXfitbit

What you need to know

  • Pebble is no longer promoting, manufacturing, or selling any devices.
  • Pebble devices will continue to work as normal. No immediate changes to the Pebble user experience will happen at this time.
  • Pebble functionality or service quality may be reduced in the future.
  • Kickstarter backers who have not received their rewards will receive a full refund within 4-8 weeks as a chargeback to their credit cards. No further action is needed. For more information, please visit our Support page.
  • Orders from pebble.com are no longer being accepted or fulfilled, including Pebble 2 pre-orders, which have not yet been charged or shipped.
  • Warranty support is no longer available for Pebble watches. How-to information and troubleshooting can still be found on our Support page and in the Pebble Forum.
  • Returns of pebble.com orders that were successfully completed before December 7, 2016 will be refunded by our Support Team.
  • Pebble watches purchased at retail may be returned or exchanged based on the retailer’s return policy.
  • Pebblers can still find replacement charging cables and other compatible accessories (bands, skins, etc.) from Amazon.com and third-party vendors like GadgetWraps and Clockwork Synergy.
  • If you have any other questions about Pebble’s wind-down of operations, please visit this page.

#pebbleXfitbit

Making Awesome Happen will live on at Fitbit. Our developer community set Pebble’s wearable technology ecosystem apart from the rest. No other wearable platform was more open or gave developers more freedom to create, experiment, and delight the world with beautiful watchfaces, useful apps, and unique experiences. The Pebble Dev community’s mission was to Make Awesome Happen, and they accomplished that beyond our wildest dreams.

#pebbleXfitbit

Wearables have evolved tremendously since our Kickstarter project in 2012. Significant advancements and exciting new products on the horizon will drive the continued growth of the category. In evaluating our future, we wanted to align with a company that shared our take on how wearable technology can bring delight and utility to our lives.

While dissolving Pebble as you know today is difficult, I am happy to announce that many members of Team Pebble will be joining the Fitbit family to continue their work on wearable software platforms. Pebble’s successful approach to third-party wearable development is undeniable, and Fitbit is welcoming our expertise in this space wholeheartedly.

#pebbleXfitbit

It is because of the close collaboration with the Fitbit team that the Pebble user experience will continue. Fitbit will maintain services so that Pebble devices continue to work as normal. Pebble functionality and service may be reduced in the future. We applaud their efforts as we collectively work to streamline this transition for Pebblers everywhere.

For nearly ten years, Fitbit has been the pioneer and leader in creating innovative health and fitness-focused devices and experiences that help people reach their wellness goals. They differentiated themselves from the competition with broad, cross-platform compatibility, a range of price points, long battery life, and a focus on design so that devices can integrate seamlessly into our lives. These are all values we championed at Pebble, so aligning with Fitbit felt natural. The arrangements were finalized today for Fitbit to acquire our technology, software, and other intellectual property (IP). Fitbit will share more about their plans in the future, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s very exciting.

Pebble Developers

#pebbleXfitbit

Developers have an exciting opportunity to reach and delight over 50 million users and counting. The team joining Fitbit will help the company accelerate development of the tools and resources devs need to enhance future Fitbit products with experiences that can take wearables to new heights of utility and appeal. If this opportunity excites you too, join us for the ride! The Pebble Developer Blog has more detail on how we’re bringing Pebble’s expertise in this realm to Fitbit.

Until Next Time

It’s a bittersweet day, but I want to extend my biggest thanks to the Pebble community. Personally, one of the best feelings ever is spotting you on the train, running through an airport, or finishing a bike ride and checking your Pebble. If you catch me staring at your wrist (I’ll be the tall guy wearing a Pebble t-shirt), stop me and say “Hi.” If you’re wearing your Pebble, a drink is on me!

Thank you as well to all of Team Pebble—past and present. You’ve worked incredibly hard over the last 8 (!) years and created something amazing. It’s been a pleasure working with you and I can’t wait to see what you have in store for the future.

Yours,

Eric Migicovsky

#pebbleXfitbit

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain

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Technicalleigh
15 hours ago
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Damn. It's official now. I'll miss them. :(
SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
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Silicon Valley is a bubble. Here’s how it can respond to Trump.

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AliveCor CEO Vic Gundotra has some ideas for techies on the latest Recode Decode.

Vic Gundotra calls himself an “eternal optimist” and says he loves what he has worked on — starting at Microsoft, then at Google and now at health-tech startup AliveCor. But after Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential race, he’s rethinking some things.

“We in Silicon Valley have to be aware that the optimism, hope, enthusiasm and excitement that we have in the Valley, every day, with the people we work with, is not indicative of what most Americans feel,” Gundotra said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher.

Gundotra said techies have a responsibility to start thinking more about people outside of their immediate circles, and being open to “opposing views.”

“Listening means you don’t demonize someone in your office who is a Trump supporter,” he said. “Those people got so afraid that they stopped talking and then the polls were wrong. They only expressed their opinion when they felt safe, in the voting booth.”

He also said people who had been critical of Trump must not treat him with the same obstructionism that President Obama received from Republicans in Congress. When Swisher pointed out that this obstructionism may have helped the GOP win, he stood by his opinion because “leadership means doing the right thing.”

Gundotra added that he is “okay with normalization,” referring to the process of welcoming Trump and his ideas into the political establishment that is dividing observers in the media. However, he said that that normalization should have limits.

“I’m not okay with normalizing evil,” Gundotra said. “If you demonize groups of people — if you demonize Hispanics, if you demonize gays and lesbians, that’s immoral. That’s not what I’m referring to.”

“Maybe Silicon Valley won’t work with certain people,” he added, referring to Trump’s incoming chief strategist Steve Bannon, who as chairman of Breitbart News oversaw the routine publication of sexist, transphobic, anti-gay, anti-Semitic and often false stories. “I think President-elect Trump will figure out who is appropriate.”

You can listen to Recode Decode in the audio player above, or subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge's Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on iTunes — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara.

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Technicalleigh
2 days ago
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Hmm. Vic Gundotra is still as out-of-touch with reality as he was a few years ago, I see.
SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
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macklesufficient: meanwhile

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macklesufficient:

meanwhile

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Technicalleigh
2 days ago
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My suffering is moderately intense today, thanks. And yours?

(not a millennial but the kids absolutely don't deserve the bad rap they get)
SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
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President Obama, The Time Is Now to #FreeChelsea. She Deserves Her Freedom.

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Chelsea Manning has served 7 years in prison, longer than any other whistleblower in U.S. history.

Chelsea Manning, currently in the seventh year of a 35-year court-martial sentence, has already served longer in prison than any other whistleblower in the history of our country.

On Monday, more than a dozen LGBT organizations — led by the ACLU — sent a letter to President Obama urging him to commute Chelsea’s sentence to time served.

Since she was first taken into custody in 2010, Chelsea, a transgender woman who is being forced to serve out her sentence in an all-male prison, has been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement — including for attempting suicide — and denied necessary medical treatment related to her gender dysphoria. The Army even opposed her request to use her legal name and to be referred to by female pronouns. The U.S. government has vigorously and repeatedly opposed Chelsea’s efforts to be treated with basic dignity, and the ACLU is still fighting on Chelsea’s behalf in court so that she can follow the hair length and hair grooming standards that all other female military prisoners are subjected to.

The longer Chelsea goes without treatment that she needs while being deprived basic dignity, the harder it will be for her to survive.

It is imperative that she be freed.

To quote from Chelsea’s own words to President Obama:

The bottom-line is this: I need help and I am still not getting it. I am living through a cycle of anxiety, anger, hopelessness, loss, and depression. I cannot focus. I cannot sleep. I attempted to take my own life. When the USDB [United States Disciplinary Barracks] placed me in solitary confinement as punishment for the attempted suicide, I tried it again because the feeling of hopelessness was so immense. This has served as a reminder to me that any lack of treatment can kill me, so I must keep fighting a battle that I wish every day would just end.

If President Obama grants her clemency petition, Chelsea will have a first chance to live a real, meaningful life as the person she was born to be. The only relief that she is seeking is to be released from military prison after serving more than six years of confinement.

We hope that President Obama will hear her plea and #FreeChelsea before he leaves office next month.

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Technicalleigh
2 days ago
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SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
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