back to article Uber is watching your smartphone's battery charge

Browser authors are abandoning the invasive Battery API W3C specification, but not everybody's got the memo: Uber, for example, still watches battery status. The not-an-employer, not-a-taxi-company's app checks battery status and remaining battery, with the explanation that the feature is used for fraud detection. The …

  1. bazza Silver badge

    Low Charge Desparation

    Of course they're going to charge more money to someone late at night whose mobile is close to switching itself off!

    In fact, the more pointless computation the Uber app does the more battery it uses up and the more likely the "customer" is to be desparate to get home.

    1. wolfetone Silver badge

      Re: Low Charge Desparation

      Would be interesting to try this out. Two people, one with 100% battery and the other with 5%, try to hail an uber in roughly the same place going to roughly the same destination, see who pays more or gets the Uber quicker.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Be very afraid

      when the UK Government privatises the Ambulance Service and flogs it off to Uber.

      1. Adam 52 Silver badge

        Re: Be very afraid

        Ambulance is pretty much privatised already - look at the logos on the vans. Also note the "in partnership with" wording next to the NHS sign.

        1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

          Re: Be very afraid

          Better take the premium account option, then...

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Low Charge Desparation

      "Of course they're going to charge more money to someone late at night whose mobile is close to switching itself off!"

      Maybe it's time for someone to produce an app which flags your desire for a taxi/cab/rideshare/whatever to all the available operators and make them bid for your business? Does that sound suitabley disruptive Mr Uber?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And absolutely nothing to do with

    the User's Location being shown as "stuck in the middle of Nowhere" with battery charge at <5%.

    Sounds like a Price-Gouging-Oppourtunity feature to me.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alternative vehicles

    Uber will probably offer you (with low battery)

    "A car with a phone charger for £10.00/mile"

    or

    "A car without a charger for £2.00/mile?"

    and other permutations of the above.

    Posted from a Uber free environment and will remain so until the drivers are proper employees and have proper benefits.

    1. iRadiate

      Re: Alternative vehicles

      You've never used Uber.

      My experience around the US, UK, Europe and Mexico has been a free bottle of water. Access to all sorts of charging cable for your device and even free sweets in the door wells.

      1. Kiwi
        Coat

        Re: Alternative vehicles

        ...and even free sweets in the door wells.

        Yes, I leave those for my most, er, 'special' customers. Especially those who's phones are close to dead.

        Mine's the rather dodgy looking trenchcoat.

  4. DougS Silver badge

    I vote for "can't resist grabbing everything"

    Storage is cheap, and you never know when something might be useful to you. So they will grab everything they can. If they could get the results of a search on Amazon looking for size 10.5 2E shoes, they'd store your shoe size, just because.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: I vote for "can't resist grabbing everything"

      Well.. there's always the advertising angle..."I see you're wearing XXX shoes. Y store is having a sale, want to stop by on the way to the pub? The waiting fee will be nominal for this." And so it goes... profit from the ad, profit from additional charges.

      1. BongoJoe Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: I vote for "can't resist grabbing everything"

        But continuing with

        "Your purchasing history suggests that you wear your genitals on the outside. In that case we'll forgo the shoeshop..."

    2. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: I vote for "can't resist grabbing everything"

      It's not that cheap if it gets you into trouble with the regulators.

      I'm just starting what's likely to be a $1m project to delete all the cruft that our developers collected because they could before the Information Commissioner notices.

    3. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      Re: I vote for "can't resist grabbing everything"

      So, a vote for Trump, then?

  5. Dave 15 Silver badge

    uber need to think

    Why would I want an application that lets someone else know what state my phone is in... if they look at that what else do they snoop on?

    I also wonder what happens with battery charge info when I plug the phone into a charger... never checked as I still use an old Symbian device because that way I get a battery life around a week rather than around an hour. :)

  6. maffski

    Efficency

    I don't know. perhaps if I was reliant on a app that I needed millions of people to be happy to run it constantly then I might be inclined to, you know, try and minimise power usage.

    Although it's probably for something evil.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Efficency

      That's probably what is going on, but that should be the kind of thing the devs assess in debug back in the shop, not live on everyone's phone where it's purpose may be misconstrued (as I did at the top!).

      After all, discovering that one's app's power consumption is terrible from live telemetry back from users is bad for business and makes it look like one couldn't be bothered to check it oneself because shipping.

      1. fidodogbreath Silver badge

        Re: Efficency

        After all, discovering that one's app's [insert feature or metric here] is terrible from live telemetry back from users is bad for business standard dev practice nowadays and makes it look like is further confirmation, as if any were needed, that one couldn't be bothered to check it oneself because shipping.

        FTFY

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. tiggity Silver badge

    Not for security

    Battery level as security?

    No.

    e.g.

    Charge low so I slot in my fully charged spare battery into same phone.

    Charge low on main phone so I turn on my fully charged backup phone & log into account with that.

    Disclosure: Not a uber user, so no idea what other data they record, but swapping to spare phone could involve SIM swap over if they also record phone number details.

    Both normal behaviors and false flagging as security issue would not please me if I was a customer.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge
      Meh

      Re: Not for security

      Disclosure: Not a uber user....

      I'd already figured that out. As you mentioned changing the battery you're obviously not an iSheep.

      (Disclaimer: While it's possibly not true that all Uber users are iPhone owners, all the ones I know are.)

  9. batfastad

    W3C API

    Genuine question. Why would the Uber app, or any native app, be using the W3C battery API when it's a native app and therefore presumably it has full access to battery status... and lots more besides!

    DISCLAIMER: I'm not an Android dev so don't know how the native APIs work - are they just be wrappers around the (developing) HTML5/W3C APIs then?

    Thank you for installing SimpleCalculator. This app needs permission to access your camera, stored media, microphone, location, phone call and message history, internet browsing history, stored finger prints, payment details...

  10. Moosh
    Devil

    Quite off the topic of the application monitoring battery charge...

    I have absolutely no problem with Uber, and in my drunken Uber trips have heard almost entirely positive things about the company from Uber drivers; its literally just a way to earn a few extra quid, and while I have heard a few groans about how strict they are with ratings (Uber drivers are apparently dropped if their rating falls below a certain level), the majority just seem happy to be earning some extra dosh. For a lot of drivers, especially younger ones, its a way for them to pay for their new car. Some of the ones I have spoken to used to be standard taxi drivers but prefer Uber because they can just clock on and off whenever they want, and they can pick and choose who they respond to (for example, picking up someone who has set a destination close to where they themselves live in order to finish off their night).

    Its also infinitely harder to get ripped off by an uber driver, as the app stores each trip you do. I'm friends with this chap on facebook: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/35916126/uber-passenger-pays-102-for-ride-as-driver-takes-huge-detour

    The reason he was aware was because he could see the charge and the app history on his phone, as well as the driver who did it.

    I quite honestly feel as though those who complain about Uber have never used it or even interacted with an Uber driver.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Quite off the topic of the application monitoring battery charge...

      M offered "...those who complain about Uber have never used it..."

      That they're generally a highly sleazy company can be discerned from news reports alone.

      Service isn't the issue. Basic ethics is.

      1. Patrician

        Re: Quite off the topic of the application monitoring battery charge...

        I don't see how they can be described as "sleazy"? Nobody forces anyone to drive for them; if they don't like the terms, pay and conditions of working/driving for Uber, then don't drive for Uber!

        1. TheMole

          Re: Quite off the topic of the application monitoring battery charge...

          Its not their employment practices that make them sleazy, its their approach to business :

          http://www.theverge.com/2014/8/26/6067663/this-is-ubers-playbook-for-sabotaging-lyft

          and

          https://techcrunch.com/2016/01/12/uber-might-owe-tens-of-thousands-of-california-passengers-1-8-million-in-a-class-action-lawsuit-over-airport-fees/

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Quite off the topic of the application monitoring battery charge...

      > I quite honestly feel as though those who complain about Uber have never used it or even interacted with an Uber driver.

      You make a reasonable point there.

      However, I cannot help thinking that:

      1. One has to separate the concept from the company. This is just one more article to add to the long list of unclear, questionable, unethical, or downright illegal business practices from this particular shop. Also, remember that the quality of service you are getting at the moment is being subsidised by the investors--the company is *not* making profit. Google was great too, back when it was a bunch of nerds playing with algorithms and before they figured they better go make some money.

      2. As regards the concept itself, I think it can be better judged at the macro level, rather than based on individual or anecdotal experiences. Its interactions at this level have not become fully clear yet--we need a better understanding before we can commit. To put an imperfect example: everyone thought that biofuels were a great idea in the 70s / 80s. Until we put it into wider practice and started chopping down tropical forests and displacing food crops. What went wrong? In a nutshell, we didn't consider things at a big enough scale.

      So, I expect to see some positive aspects come out of this, but prudence is required, least one ends up with an even more inegalitarian society than we already have. And I have strong reservations about Uber being the right company to pursue this idea (or possibly any other idea).

  11. nilfs2
    Childcatcher

    Grabbing battery status could be useful for their customers and drivers

    The other day I was running out of battery on the street with only 3% battery charge, I had to call an Uber, when I was waiting for the car my phone died, I couldn't call or text the Uber driver to tell him my exact location (on a big and crowded city this can be an issue), luckily the Uber driver was nice enough and ask around trying to locate me until I spotted him. If Uber knew beforehand that I was running out battery they could have warned the driver that I was not able to answer calls or reply text messages.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Grabbing battery status could be useful for their customers and drivers

      > If Uber knew beforehand that I was running out battery they could have warned the driver that I was not able to answer calls or reply text messages.

      1. In software development we call that gold plating. That's adding features for the sake of features, without consideration of their cost¹/benefit ratio.

      2. There will always be a user coming up with a "feature request" like that. I've seen shops that implement anything the users ask for. The software eventually becomes unusable and/or falls apart.

      3. Can't you just specify an exact pick-up location?

      4. Can't you add "delivery" (or in this case, pick-up) notes to your request? Actually talk to a human of some description?

      5. There is always hailing a taxicab, or taking mass public transport (besides, walking, hitchhiking, carjacking, buying an automobile², ...)

      ¹ Cost implies more than purely monetary terms. An unwarranted privacy intrusion is a cost, as is using a soon-to-be-discontinued API, or even just adding complexity to your product.

      ² As people did when flights were grounded in Europe due to volcanic ash a few years back. The bloke from my regular car hire in Spain told me they had people pay up to €6,000.- for a one-way hire drop-off in England, that was after a 50% discount off the "computer says" price. At least two others (German and Dutch) walked into a nearby dealer and bought cars on the spot. Never underestimate people's resourcefulness.

      1. RichardB

        Re: Grabbing battery status could be useful for their customers and drivers

        It's actually a little more subtle than that if you have ever experienced it.

        Having my phone die suddenly while waiting for Uber to find a cab, after I have requested one, then not knowing until several hours later when the bill arrives that a car had indeed been booked and did arrive looking for me, then I am quite happy with the concept that they should know at least if my battery has reached a point that it is unlikely my end of the deal is viable.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Grabbing battery status could be useful for their customers and drivers

          > then I am quite happy with the concept that they should know at least if my battery has reached a point that it is unlikely my end of the deal is viable.

          Richard, you do not understand: the problem is that you have become unreachable, not that your battery has died.

  12. jonnycando
    Mushroom

    It won't be long now.....

    Before Uber and perhaps Lyft will be seen to be the evil devils that they are and finally put out of business. You'd think drivers jumping ship would be enough, but I guess some folks LIKE to be abused!

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