Reports recently began circulating from users who claimed that Uber may be abusing the background location tracking feature in Apple’s iOS platform. Uber recently made a change to its app that removed the option to grant access for the ride hailing app to only access a user’s location data while in the app. Instead, the only options are now to give Uber unfettered access to an iPhone’s location data, or to completely revoke location access. This alone wasn’t a problem — the problem was people found that Uber had accessed their location data days or even weeks after the last time they had taken an Uber ride.
Users have been complaining about this apparent issue ever since it first came to light, and now Uber has finally issued a public response.
If you’re an Uber user, go to Settings → Privacy → Location Services on your iPhone and scroll down to the Uber app. See that little purple arrow next to Uber? That means the app has accessed your location “recently.” That’s fine if you just stepped out of an Uber cab, but some of you might not have used Uber in days or even weeks. So what’s going on here? Is Uber constantly tracking your location? According to Uber, the answer is no.
“For people who choose to integrate ride sharing apps with iOS Maps, location data must be shared in order for you to request a ride inside the Maps app,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Map extensions are disabled by default and you can choose to turn them on in your iOS settings.”
That all seems well and good, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time an app exhibited unexpected behavior due to iOS as opposed to problems with the app itself. But here’s the problem: It doesn’t seem like Uber’s explanation is accurate at all.
I have confirmed with several Uber users that the app is exhibiting behavior that does not align with Uber’s explanation. In all cases, these users had not opened the Uber app in several days, and yet the app had still accessed their location recently according to iOS. Additionally, not a single one of these users had Uber’s Maps extension enabled. Also of note, other apps with disabled Maps extensions are not exhibiting the same behavior.
It’s unclear if Uber is still investigating the issue at this time, but it does seem clear that the company’s initial diagnosis of this problem is not correct.