Taxi app company Uber has applied for a patent to use artificial intelligence to determine how drunk potential passengers might be. The app used to summon rides could also feed other information to the driver, including a passenger’s location, how accurately they are typing and even the angle they are holding their phone at. It could help drivers who do not want to pick up inebriated riders.
But critics said it could also be used to identify vulnerable passengers. According to the application to the US patent office, the system would spot “uncharacteristic user activity”. Uber does not have the best track record when it comes to collecting data. In 2014 it was revealed the company used a software program known as God View to monitor real-time locations of customers and drivers.
That, coupled with a data breach that exposed personal data about more than 100,000 Uber drivers, made the company introduce tough measures to protect the privacy of drivers and customers. Uber’s co-founder Travis Kalanick resigned in June 2017 over allegations of sexual harassment at the scandal-hit company. CNN reported that more than 100 Uber drivers in the US had been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing passengers in the past four years, with 31 drivers convicted of crimes including false imprisonment and rape.
Critics expressed concern that an app that could predict user behavior could be used by drivers wishing to prey on vulnerable passengers. In a statement, Uber said: “We are always exploring ways that our technology can help improve the Uber experience for riders and drivers. “We file patent applications on many ideas, but not all of them actually become products or features.”