Uber was nearly kicked off iOS for tracking phones after app was deleted

24 Apr 2017

Person wearing Uber jacket. Image: Graphical_Bank/Shutterstock

Uber’s woes continue, as a new report claims that the service was close to getting banned from iOS for tracking phones even after the app was deleted.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has established himself as one of the most controversial Silicon Valley CEOs in recent months, most notably in a recorded hidden-camera conversation he had with one of the company’s drivers.

Now, a report from The New York Times has revealed that two years ago, Kalanick was brought before Apple CEO Tim Cook with an ultimatum: ditch your phone-tracking software or be banned from iOS.

At that time, Uber was alleged to have used software that meant it would continue to track an iPhone’s fingerprint, even after the app was deleted.

While a similar piece of code did exist in iPhones – referred to as a Unique Device Identifier – Apple publicly removed it in 2013 over privacy concerns.

However, Cook and Apple’s staff found that Uber’s app continued to track users, thereby going against Apple’s terms and conditions, resulting in the heated conversation with Kalanick.

At the time, Kalanick and Uber claimed that it was necessary to track devices in order to prevent fraud on its service in countries including China.

It said that because it rewards drivers for increasing the number of overall rides, some were registering multiple accounts on stolen iPhones to gain an unfair advantage and more money than they deserved.

To make matters worse, Uber was also alleged to have been actively trying to hide the code from Apple’s engineers by geofencing in the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters. However, it did not count on its engineers also working in other offices.

Still fingerprints devices

In another claim made by The New York Times piece, Uber purchased data on its rival Lyft in order to try to gain a competitive advantage over it – a practice that Lyft also takes part in.

Perhaps the most damning claim, however, is that Uber asked its employees to order and cancel Lyft rides en masse to try and damage the service’s credibility.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Uber said that it continues to fingerprint devices to prevent fraud, but that this all complies with Apple’s rules on the matter.

“Similar techniques are also used for detecting and blocking suspicious logins to protect our users’ accounts,” the spokesperson said.

“Being able to recognise known bad actors when they try to get back onto our network is an important security measure for both Uber and our users.”

Person wearing Uber jacket. Image: Graphical_Bank/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic