Uber knows where you’ve been, and probably where you’re going to as well. It stores data on every ride you take using the service, as well as the ratings that drivers give their passengers.
UK residents can file something called a “subject access request” with a company to find out what data is held about them. It’s thanks to the Data Protection Act, which governs what companies can store about you.
It’s not always free, though, as companies can charge up to £10 for the cost of handing over the information.
Here’s the email I sent to Uber’s UK support email address on [email protected]:
[MY PHONE NUMBER]
[THE EMAIL ADDRESS LINKED TO MY UBER ACCOUNT]
Uber London Ltd, Aldgate Tower – First Floor, 2 Leman Street, London, E1 8FA
Dear Sir or Madam
Subject access request
Please supply the information about me I am entitled to under the Data Protection Act 1998.
1. Please tell me if any personal data of mine is being processed.
2. Please give me a description of the data, the reason it’s being processed and whether the data has been given to any other organisations.
3. Please give me a copy of all personal data you hold on me.
4. Please give me details of the source of this data if available.
If you need any more information from me, or a fee, please let me know as soon as possible.
It may be helpful for you to know that a request for information under the Data Protection Act 1998 should be responded to within 40 days.
If you do not normally deal with these requests, please pass this letter to your Data Protection Officer. If you need advice on dealing with this request, the Information Commissioner’s Office can assist you and can be contacted on 0303 123 1113 or at ico.org.uk
Uber sent me a reply back explaining that UK data protection law doesn’t apply for my records because they’re stored by Uber B.V., the company’s European HQ in Amsterdam. Because of that, Dutch data protection law applied instead.
I eventually received my data just over a month after I requested it. Here’s what I found:
Uber knows where I’ve been
The document Uber sent me included the precise locations of where I had requested rides, where each ride began, and where it ended. It didn’t, however, store the route that the trip had taken.
I could see every rating that drivers had left for me
If you’ve used Uber than you’ll be familiar with the prompts to give drivers a rating out of five stars. Five is the best, meaning they were a great driver, and one star means you had a really bad experience.
But what you might not realise is that drivers are also encouraged to rate their passengers. That way the system only keeps good riders and drivers active.
There’s no way to view the individual ratings that drivers give you through the app, but the document I received from Uber showed me the rating out of five that I received from each driver.
One rating shocked me. On November 22 a driver gave me a one-star review. What had gone wrong? I don’t recall ever vomiting in an Uber. I looked up the location of the journey and realised that I had ordered an Uber for a friend whose bank card didn’t work. I’m not doing that again.
Uber stores every email you send it
Included in the data Uber sent back to me was a record of every support email I’ve sent the company. There were three different types of message that I could see:
- Requests to see my passenger rating (Uber used to make you email to see this number, now you can request it through the app.)
- Feedback I sent about drivers
- Emails about my request for the data
I’ve spent over £750 on Uber in less than two years
The PDF file that Uber sent me meant that many of the figures weren’t readable. I complained and they sent me over an Excel spreadsheet with the raw location and cost information. That was much more useful. I crunched the numbers and found that since December 2014 I have spent £750.15 on Uber.
It was shocking to see such a high number, but it’s still cheaper than owning a car.
My average fare was cheaper than a taxi
I checked the spreadsheet and found that I had made exactly 60 Uber trips. That gave me an average cost per trip of £12.50. That actually works out cheaper than the average taxi fare for London, which Transport for London says is £12.72. And in case you’re curious what the average ride duration was, that came out at just over 19 minutes.