A disturbing story broke this week that had Uber and Lyft passengers second-guessing their use of the ride-sharing services. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted the news that a local Uber and Lyft driver had been live-streaming video of his customers without their knowledge or consent.
Some drivers use cameras as a security measure (something often found in taxi company cars), but the St. Louis driver shared the video online for viewers to comment on. His actions were legal in Missouri, a one-party recording consent state, but the passengers were horrified to learn their every word and action inside the car was live-streamed to strangers.
While Lyft announced it had deactivated the driver and Uber said it ended its relationship with him, we’re all now very aware of the potential privacy issues surrounding cameras in ride-sharing cars. The St. Louis driver isn’t an isolated case. Other Uber and Lyft drivers have done the same, though some had a practice of telling their passengers first.
Hidden cameras could still be a problem, but there are some steps you can take to identify the use of cameras in an Uber or Lyft vehicle.
What to look for
The now-suspended St. Louis driver had a small sticker on his car warning passengers of security cameras on board and telling them they were consenting to be recorded by entering into the vehicle. The sticker did not mention the online broadcasting aspect of the system and passengers who talked to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said they did not notice the sticker. Look out for a similar notice on any Uber or Lyft vehicle you are planning to ride in.
The next place to check is the dashboard. Most camera systems will mount on the dash in order to get a view of the driver and the people in the back seat. Don’t hesitate to talk to your driver before you get in and ask if there are any cameras in operation in the car.
Uber’s official policy is to allow its drivers to install and use video cameras to “record riders for purposes of safety.” It also warns drivers that local regulations may require them to fully disclose this and obtain consent. Lyft tells its drivers to comply with their city and state's regulations when it comes to recording devices. It says some locations may not allow recording devices at all, while others may require signage.
What to do
You can ask the driver if the cameras are simply for security use or if the video is being broadcast for other purposes. If you feel comfortable with the response, then you can choose to ride. Keep in mind that privacy in an Uber or Lyft is not guaranteed and conduct yourself accordingly. This isn’t the time to spill personal secrets or vent about your boss.
You can also ask the driver to turn off any cameras. The driver may or may not choose to honor this request. Some drivers insist on the cameras in order to protect themselves in case of disputes or unruly passengers. If you're not comfortable, then request a different driver.
The live-streaming incident should make Uber and Lyft users more wary about their use of ride-shares. Just remember you can refuse a ride in an Uber or Lyft if you have privacy concerns about cameras in the vehicle.
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