Beware the drunk-hunting Uber driver
A new app lets drivers know if you have had a few pots and won’t notice a higher fare or roundabout route
For many commuters who have had one too many after work, Uber has been a godsend, allowing over-the-limit passengers to stumble into a cab and get dropped off outside their door at the touch of a button.
But those days could be numbered after the taxi app invented a system for detecting drunk passengers and alerting drivers before they are picked up.
A patent submitted by Uber details a system that uses artificial intelligence to identify passengers exhibiting unusual behaviour and could even choose to deny them a ride if they are acting “uncharacteristically”.
According to the patent, the algorithm would be able to look out for the user making typos, not precisely clicking on links and buttons, the way they are holding their phone, their walking speed and how long it takes to request a ride.
The system, branded a “tool for predators” by experts, will also look out for factors such as the time of day and where a ride is requested to determine a passenger’s state. For example, it may decide a user is drunk if they are walking down a street that has a nightclub, in the early hours of the morning on the weekend, while clumsily typing.
Drivers could be alerted of their passenger’s state, and riders acting in an especially strange manner may only be matched with drivers with relevant experience or training.Drunk riders may also be presented with an alternative version of the map and user interface on the app. The app may change the pick-up or drop-off location to somewhere safer or more accessible, such as a well-lit main street.
It could also prevent the passenger from joining shared rides and even choose to deny the passenger a ride all together.
It is not at present known when the system detailed in the patent, that was filed by the San Francisco-based company in December 2016, will come into action on the app.
Experts fear it may allow drivers to undertake “drunk hunting” and manipulate fare prices to take advantage of user’s state.
Professor Andre Spicer, from Cass Business School in London, said: “This opens up the opportunity for drivers to identify drunk passengers and potentially take advantage of it. It could lead to the possibility of some drivers avoiding drunk passengers and in the worst cases drunk hunting.“It may also make journeys safer for drunk passengers, so if they know who is a risky driver they might prevent that unsafe driver from picking up vulnerable riders. It could mean that they offer different prices for drunk passengers, which means Uber could take advantage of a user’s state to charge them more.”
John Boit, spokesperson for the UK Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, said: “Uber will say this is a way to protect passengers, but this does just the opposite. The very pursuit of this patent is a prime exhibit of how Uber wants to breach and exploit your privacy.“We know they can’t be trusted to handle such nuclear material when it comes to your private and sensitive information. They’ll use this to extract higher fares, and in the worst case scenario, this information could fall into the wrong hands and become a tool for predators.
“The real question is: What business is it of Uber if someone is inebriated? They are a transportation company, and their first and only mission should be getting people safely from A to B, not snooping into their lives.”
- © The Daily Telegraph