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Uber bans drivers from broadcasting recordings of riders, months after St. Louis livestreamer was exposed

Uber bans drivers from broadcasting recordings of riders, months after St. Louis livestreamer was exposed

November 9th, 2018 by Associated Press in Missouri News

ST. LOUIS -- A group of men piled into an Uber SUV late last month. They started complaining about work and their bosses. They had no idea a camera was rolling, and didn't realize their candid conversations would soon be posted online.

This time it happened in Phoenix, and the men recorded without their consent were professional athletes, hockey players for the Ottawa Senators.

A dashcam video of the players badmouthing their coaching staff during the ride quickly spread online this week. And though it happened some 1,400 miles from St. Louis, the story highlights what Uber has changed after a similar story broke in the Post-Dispatch this summer.

In July, the paper reported that Jason Gargac, a driver with ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft, streamed some 700 of his rides live online without his passengers' consent.

Gargac exposed addresses, names and personal conversations about his customers' bosses, spouses and children, all while an online audience watched on the website Twitch and commented in real time. Some viewers focused their comments on female riders and their bodies, and sometimes Gargac joined in.

After Gargac was exposed, an Uber spokesman told the Post-Dispatch that the company would examine its policies, which at the time did not specifically ban the practice. On Wednesday, a spokesman said the company has changed its official guidelines for drivers recording passengers.

An earlier policy stated only that drivers could record rides for safety, but should follow local privacy laws. The new guideline adds: "Broadcasting a person's image, audio or video recording is a violation of (Uber's) terms and may result in loss of account access."

The company also added that drivers are not allowed to use customers' personal data for any reason other than transportation, and that disrespectful or unsafe conduct can result in revocation of their access. The new policy went into effect at the end of September, a spokesman said.

The policy does not prevent drivers from continuing to use cameras for security purposes.

An Uber spokesman said the company did not send alerts to all drivers about the change to the policy, but posted the change to the driver guidelines online.

Uber added a third paragraph to its recording policy beginning in late September 2018. The addition says that broadcasting recordings of passengers can result in a ban for drivers.

This week, the controversy over the hockey players' ride put Uber's new rules to the test.

The video, which appears to have been taken by a driver using a dashcam, was posted online on both YouTube and Twitter, according to media reports. The original video has been removed, but it was copied and widely reposted by social media users and some media outlets.

The footage from Oct. 29 quickly gained attention in sports and Canadian media for the players' comments, including center Matt Duchene griping about team meetings.

"We don't change anything, ever," he said. "So why do we even have a meeting? I haven't paid attention in three weeks."

The players released a statement after the video began to spread online, and apologized to their coach.

"Our private conversation was recorded without our knowledge or consent," the statement said.

Uber's public response to the recording stands in contrast to how the company initially handled Gargac's livestreams around St. Louis.

Customers who learned they were being recorded had complained to the company. Some got $5 credits, but Gargac continued to work for Uber. When the Post-Dispatch first contacted Uber with questions about Gargac's actions, the company released a prepared response simply noting the recording appeared to be legal in Missouri.

"Driver partners are responsible for complying with the law when providing trips, including privacy laws," an Uber spokesman wrote in an initial statement. "Recording passengers without their consent is illegal in some states, but not Missouri."

The company ignored follow-up questions over the course of that week. It wasn't until the day after the story was published online that the company removed Gargac and condemned his actions as a violation of company policies. Uber did not ban livestreaming or recording of passengers without their consent at that time. Instead, the company cited a part of its policies that prohibits inappropriate or disrespectful behavior by drivers, including comments on appearance or sexual remarks.

The reaction to the video of the hockey players in Arizona stands in contrast. Shortly after the video began to circulate, Rob Khazzam, general manager of Uber Canada, posted a message to Twitter saying that the recording was a clear violation of Uber's policies.

"Filming or recording passengers without their consent is totally unacceptable and if reported/detected we will investigate and take action to preserve our communities privacy and integrity," Khazzam posted. "In this specific case, we made efforts to have the video taken down."

An Uber spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the driver in the Phoenix recording has been removed from Uber.