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Patent Drop - Uber’s evidence locker: February 16, 2023

By Nat Rubio-Licht

February 16, 2023

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Happy Thursday and welcome to Patent Drop!

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A quick programming note before we jump in: The next edition of Patent Drop will be published on Tuesday, Feb. 21 in observance of Presidents’ Day on Monday, Feb. 20.

This morning, we’re taking a look at Uber’s potential new safety feature, Meta’s plans to be easier on the eyes, and Sony’s tech to adjust your WFH workspace to fit your mood. Let’s take a look.

#1. Uber’s safety play

Uber has had its fair share of safety complaints. Now, it wants to keep track of them itself.

The company filed a patent for tech that controls “use of secure media recordings.” Essentially, this tech allows both riders and drivers to make media recordings of their rides in-app if an incident occurs, then stores those recordings securely and directly with Uber. That way, if the recordings need to be used as evidence in a case, law enforcement can retrieve them from Uber and be ensured that they haven’t been tampered with by either party involved.

“While users can record media on their devices separate from resources of the service, the recording of such media can be illegal, viewed as an invasion of privacy to the other party, or deemed unreliable,” Uber said in its application.

The recordings are also timestamped to ensure that no unrelated parties are hauled into court. For example, if a driver was recording before and after a passenger incident, any riders picked up before or after wouldn’t be brought into the case.

Operational flowchart of Uber secure storage tech. Photos via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Operational flowchart of Uber secure storage tech. Photos via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

This isn’t Uber’s first rodeo with in-app safety features. In the past five years, the company has launched initiatives including address anonymization, the integrated 911 emergency button and in-app emergency contacts for riders. That hasn’t put an end to harassment cases – in July, upwards of 500 people filed legal claims alleging they were assaulted or harassed by the platform’s drivers.

The hope is that the new tech will lead to more civility. If both drivers and passengers know that they can be recorded, make recordings, and have those recording securely stored with Uber, this might make people feel safer and encourage better etiquette when in an Uber – or at the very least “remind people that they need to be on their decent human being behavior,” Daniel Farber Huang, CEO at consulting firm EchoStream Group, told me.

“In the world that we live in today, being able to have evidence that has data integrity attached to it is becoming increasingly important,” said Farber Huang. “And I think socializing the fact that recordings are going to be stored by Uber for all eternity could be a bit of a preventive measure.”

However much Uber bills this as enhancing peace of mind for drivers and riders, its main goal with this patent is more likely to cover its own rear. “First and foremost, this is here to protect Uber corporate,” said Farber Huang.

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