It’s difficult to not think of 1984 when discussing surveillance, to not imagine the face of Big Brother. And while that’s a perfectly valid focus, it neglects the other significant source of privacy concerns: namely, everyone else.
Last year, when several riders were taped and broadcasted by their drivers, Uber and Lyft confirmed this was against their policies. According to Uber’s website, drivers may record passengers “for the purpose of fulfilling transportation services.” But streaming those videos is right out.
Perhaps to offset the capability, and perhaps to polish up its image and maintain its hold on the market, Uber is now rumored to be adding audio-recording technology to its app, which will enable riders to capture distressing conversations or bad behavior from their drivers.
But is more surveillance what people really want? Would this type of technology be popular? CivicScience asked more than 2,000 American adults whether they would be comfortable with audio-recording tools in their ridesharing apps, and the answers are well worth listening to.
In general, comfortability over this technology remains split among four groups: supporters, those who are lukewarm, detractors, and those who just haven’t decided. A slight edge goes to adults who say they’re not at all comfortable with the idea—a sentiment that may come from both drivers, who would fall under scrutiny, and riders, whose beliefs in privacy may outweigh their fears over security.
Yet this isn’t the full story. Combining those “very comfortable” about audio-recording tools and those “somewhat comfortable” makes it clear that almost half of U.S. adults would at least be okay taking this technology for a spin.
Looking at the demographics, one of the more telling results illuminates the disparity between younger and older adults. Overall, comfortability remains modest, though 29% of Millennials and Gen Xers, and 27% of Boomers, still haven’t accepted the technology.
Gen Z, on the other hand, is more in favor, despite making up only 4% of ridesharing users in a recent poll. Though 28% remain uncomfortable, 30% percent of Gen Zers say they’re very comfortable with audio-recording tools in their ridesharing apps and another 29% are somewhat comfortable. For the youngest adults today, this kind of technology is less foreign, and, perhaps as a result, 59% seem okay with it.
Interestingly, less affluent adults tend to favor the tech more than wealthier adults, though wealthier adults use ridesharing services more than twice as often. This indicates that likely customers, being older and wealthier, are less enthusiastic about the possible technology and more worried about privacy issues.
Most interesting, though, is the difference between men and women. When it comes to having audio-recording tools in the car, men certainly feel less comfortable than women. Only 21% of men are very comfortable with the idea, compared to 30% of women. In fact, nearly the same proportion of women say they’re generally comfortable with the technology (54%) as do men who say they aren’t or aren’t sure (55%). What does that say about who feels like they may get caught saying something they shouldn’t, or, sadly, who currently feels unsafe using ridesharing apps?
No matter one’s concerns about privacy and surveillance, in the end, companies will listen to those who use their apps most often. As mentioned earlier, older and wealthier adults are skeptical of the technology, and this skepticism is probably reflected in the 35% of users who say they’re not comfortable with the audio-recording tools.
But that may not be enough to outweigh those who would like to have it, especially since that cohort is most likely younger. Twenty-six percent of adults who use ridesharing services say they’re very comfortable having audio-recording technology in the app, and another 28% are somewhat comfortable, making more than half of users okay bringing this technology along for the ride.
Obviously surveillance has become an ever greater part of our world. Many of us no longer think about its implications until a story hits the headlines, though, as these results point out, not everyone is fine with it. Yet it seems on pace to become even more ubiquitous.
In an earlier study, CivicScience found that younger, more tech-savvy people wanted to try home surveillance technology. Not surprisingly, those who use it are also inclined to favor audio-recording tools in their ridesharing apps. Twenty-eight percent of adults who use home security cameras, and 21% who intend to, say they’re “very comfortable” with audio-recording technology for this purpose. Only 18% of adults who don’t use home security cameras can say the same thing.
In this, Uber seems to be playing the long game. Many younger customers, especially women, will feel safer with the technology, despite potential privacy issues, and that sense of security is important. But there are plenty of people who are less than enthusiastic about these tools—and many happen to be frequent customers. It will be interesting to see what happens at this fork in the road.