Late last week, Twitter began to light up with claims that Uber had changed its terms of service to give the company the right to to modify and sell users’ data — not a minor concern for any privacy-minded consumer. However, Uber points out that the specific clause at the center of this mini-controversy is not new, not unique to the ride-hailing service, and doesn’t give the company that god-like authority some people are claiming.
In the “User Provided Content” section of the Uber terms of service, it states that “by providing User Content to Uber, you grant Uber a worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, transferable, royalty-free license, with the right to sublicense, to use, copy, modify, create derivative works of, distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, and otherwise exploit in any manner such User Content in all formats and distribution channels now known or hereafter devised (including in connection with the Services and Uber’s business and on third-party sites and services), without further notice to or consent from you, and without the requirement of payment to you or any other person or entity.”
This clause got a lot of attention last week when an executive at research firm Gartner Tweeted his concerns that it seems to grant Uber unfettered rights to do what it wants with your information. Others, like tech writer Doc Searls, claimed on Twitter that this was a change to Uber’s terms, the latest version of which went into effect today.
However, this exact clause is already in the Uber terms, so this is not new.
There also appears to be confusion of the use of user information — meaning data like your name, address, payment and ride history — and “User Content,” as it’s defined in the terms.
In fact, immediately before the controversial section granting Uber a license to User Content, it clarifies what this term means [bolded text for emphasis]:
“Uber may, in Uber’s sole discretion, permit you from time to time to submit, upload, publish or otherwise make available to Uber through the Services textual, audio, and/or visual content and information, including commentary and feedback related to the Services, initiation of support requests, and submission of entries for competitions and promotions (“User Content”).
“This language does not allow any sale of data,” a rep for Uber HQ tells Consumerist. “Moreover, this language is standard across the tech industry.”
The company points to similar clauses in the terms for a number of other sites, including Google (see “Your Content in our Services”), Yelp (see “Our Right to Use Your Content”) and Twitter (see “Your Rights”).
You’ll also find something similar at Lyft, reddit, Amazon, Facebook, and countless others. Even Consumerist has something similar in its User Agreement (See Section V, “Your License to Consumer Media”).
These clauses generally allow the websites to use the content users post on their platforms — whether it’s comments, photos, reviews, blog posts, forum posts — while allowing you to retain copyright. That doesn’t mean they aren’t above concern, but giving the company a free license to use the content you produce is different from giving the company to sell your data.
So what sort of user-generated content is there on Uber, and how does the company use it?
“Say a rider submitted a nice comment about a driver via the ratings feature in the app, and we wanted to share positive comments with the driver,” the company rep tells Consumerist. “The language in the terms would give us the right to share the comment with the driver without infringing on the rider’s copyright.”
Given the all-encompassing language of these clauses, it’s understandable that — in an era where detailed personal data is a highly valued commodity — people would assume the worst. After all, some companies have tried to turn basic privacy into a luxury tier of service. When AT&T began rolling out its GigaPower fiberoptic service, it charged a significantly lower price for people willing to share their web-browsing data with the company. The company has since ended that offer, but a telecom industry anti-robocall strike force — led by the CEO of AT&T — recently suggested that it should be able to offer two tiers of service — one free and one paid — for robocall-blocking technology, again implying that true privacy is something you have to pay for.