Uber has begun tracking how some of its users drive in order to see if they are operating their vehicles at unsafe speeds or driving aggressively, reveals The Guardian. The paper says that Uber has been tracking potential dangerous drivers in a limited pilot in Houston, Texas since "late 2015." The Guardian adds that users in Houston weren’t made aware that their driving methods were being tracked and were only notified when Uber needed to access their smartphone data after a customer complaint, although the company’s privacy statement clearly makes drivers aware that Uber logs their trips and has a right to access their geolocation data.
The tracking of dangerous drivers in Houston is done by recording data from the driver’s smartphone’s sensors, says The Guardian, including the accelerometer, which can reveal when a driver speeds up or brakes too quickly—movements associated with tailgating behavior.
Uber told The Guardian that this isn’t the only experiment the company runs or plans to run to "gain more influence" over the behavior of both drivers and passengers. Uber revealed that it has put a children’s toy called Bop It! in the back seat of cars in Charlotte, North Carolina to distract drunk passengers from interacting with drivers. It also revealed that it may send dashboard smartphone mounts to drivers who have been accused of texting while driving. And in a bit of psychological trickery, the company has also placed mirrors in the backseats of some Uber cars in Seattle in order to cause riders to "self-moderate" their behavior.
The moves to improve the user’s safety experience for both drivers and passengers comes amid more scrutiny of the company over the past year as it continues to achieve explosive growth. But how will Uber’s drivers feel about the company tracking their driving methods if the Houston pilot goes worldwide? They probably won’t mind, much, if Uber’s past internal polling is anything to go by. In December the company published a survey of 833 of its 400,000 drivers that it said showed that 81% of them we satisfied with the experience of driving an Uber—an increase of 3% over the previous year.
UPDATE: Uber reached out to tell us they’ve published a blog post announcing this pilot safety program. A company spokesperson confirmed the program and said that the safety of its passengers and drivers—both before, during, and after the ride—is something the company constantly works on.
For the Houston pilot, the spokesperson said the company wanted to find new ways to use data to verify passenger feedback, which helps to both inform and protect drivers.
In the blog post, titled "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Uber wrote that its program, which uses a driver’s smartphone’s gyrometers and accelerometers to monitor how a user is driving, not only alerts the company to potentially bad drivers, but helps protect an Uber driver’s feedback rating. "If a rider complains that a driver accelerated too fast and broke too hard, we can review that trip using data," the company wrote. "If the feedback is accurate, then we can get in touch with the driver. And if it’s not, we could use the information to make sure a driver’s rating isn’t affected."
The Uber spokesperson also told us that the company is very proud of using data and technology to figure out new ways to improve the safety of passengers and drivers and will continue to work on innovative ways to do so in the future.