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Uber’s drunk passenger patent could be a ‘privacy nightmare for consumers

Uber recently applied for a patent to use artificial intelligence to spot drunken drivers in a move that has cybersecurity professionals questioning the privacy implications of such software.

The new technology would allow the firm to spot uncharacteristic user behavior by monitoring changes to a customer's walking speed, user typos, and swaying motions, the angles at which the phone is held, and whether or not the phone is swaying, according to the patent application from the company.

If the system detects someone acting unusual it will tailor Uber's services accordingly possibly directing users to a better-lit pickup point, or matching users with a driver who has been trained to deal with drunk passengers, or preventing them from pooling with other passengers.

Thought the patent application doesn't explicitly states its purpose is to identify drunk or otherwise inebriated passengers it uses terms such as ‘predicting user state using machine learning” and “uncharacteristic user states,” The Guardian points out that would be the most logical use of technology designed to detect swaying and typos.

Some users have criticized the tool as allowing the potential for misuse concerning data collection or when charging passengers. Uber is also no stranger to data collection controversy with its notorious “God View” tool which showed the location of users who had requested a car and controversies and has been accused of poorly securing data.

Adam Levin Founder of CyberScout described the technology as a possible privacy nightmare for consumers. 

“Uber wants to use AI to evaluate how you hold your phone or the speed at which you type or use autocorrect,” Levin said. ”The major problem here is that this is not an exact science.”

Levin added there are a variety of reasons a person could hold their phone a certain way or that could cause a person to type differently such as when they are tired or if they are multitasking. He went on to criticize the firm for pushing the envelope of surveillance technology. 

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