Late last year, Benjamin Golden, a former Taco Bell executive, was sentenced to 60 days in prison for assaulting an Uber driver. The incident took place in Newport Beach, California in October 2015 and was captured in its entirety by driver Edward Caban’s dash camera. In the video, Caban stops and says to Golden, “I’ll kick you out, man; you’re too drunk to give me directions. After a brief protest, Golden opens his door as if to leave, then throws himself forward and repeatedly knocks Caban on the side of the head. “You shit! he yells, grabbing Caban’s hair and slamming his face towards the steering wheel.
In recent years, several other recordings of on-board cameras by Uber drivers have exploded online. There was the driver who filmed a woman on her phone before a frontal near collision in Pittsburgh; the driver whose dash camera rolled as a passenger shouted hysterically and threatened to falsely accuse him of rape from the backseat in New York; and the driver who entered a heated argument with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on the fare cuts. Other drivers post compilations of their encounters on YouTube. One of these videos, “I drive for Uber – Here are some of my crazy adventures, has nearly a million views.
Most Uber users probably don’t expect to find themselves in widely distributed music videos. But dash cams have become a popular accessory in the carpool industry, where drivers work as independent contractors and expect little to no support from companies. Drivers rely on onboard camera footage to guard against bad reviews or false accusations from passengers, which can cause them to be kicked out from platforms like Uber and Lyft. They also use these records to make sure they get paid properly if something changes midway, such as a passenger requesting an extra stop.
Some drivers take it a step further by sharing their videos on YouTube, Facebook or other online discussion forums. It’s the sharing economy version of the water cooler talks, with drivers swapping stories about their most nightmarish trips. “A man and two women got into my car and I started the journey. After 50 yards, I noticed the girls in the backseat were holding plastic cups with alcohol! a driver posted on uberpeople.net, a popular online forum, at the end of April. “I told them it was illegal and kicked them out. The man got a little angry but ALL was recorded just in case he was claiming something different.
It’s understandable that drivers feel like they need an insurance clause, but customers can still be confused to learn that their Uber or Lyft ride isn’t as private as it seems. “There are all these videos of people behaving badly in someone’s car blowing up on the internet,” said Alex Rosenblat, researcher at Data & Society who recently wrote on the use of dash cams among taxi drivers.
Dashcam companies have noted the new demand for their products. “It just became obvious,” said Paulina Soria, spokesperson for dash camera maker Papago. The company previously received two inquiries per month from VTC drivers and now receives one per week. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in sales and we can relate it specifically to these types of drivers,” she said. Nextbase, a European dash camera maker, said it has seen a “very strong increase in sales” over the past two years, especially for a dash camera model developed specifically for professional drivers. “It’s rare in Europe now if you see a taxi or a vehicle in livery without one,” Nextbase chief executive Richard Browning said. The company plans to expand into the United States later this year.
Drivers who record audio with their videos risk breaking eavesdropping laws, which vary by state. In the help section of his website, Uber says drivers can “install and use video cameras to check in passengers for security purposes.” The company encourages drivers to check local regulations on the use and disclosure of their recording equipment. Uber said it doesn’t know how many drivers use dashboard cameras in their vehicles.
California, for example, has consent of both parties, which means that a private conversation can only be recorded with the consent of all parties. Other states only restrict audio recording when there is a “reasonable expectation” of confidentiality. “The back of a car * probably * doesn’t qualify because the driver could easily overhear any ongoing conversation,” Mason Kortz, instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, told Quartz in a report. -mail. But, he added, “if the audio recording pissed off some runners, who is the court to say runners are ‘unreasonable’ to feel that way?”
In New York City, where yellow taxis are ubiquitous and strictly regulated, taxi drivers who use dash cams are required to notify passengers with a sign that reads: “This vehicle is equipped with a security camera. . YOU WILL BE PHOTOGRAPHED. Similar regulations apply to all rental vehicles, which in the city includes taxi drivers.
Many drivers are aware of these potential complications. Questions about the legality of using a dash cam – and especially audio recording – often appear in online forums, and drivers tend to encourage each other to research the laws of. their specific states. A few have installed signs in their cars to inform passengers that a check-in is in progress. “I had to make a sign for my dash cam so… I did this little beauty”, a driver wrote on uberpeople.net at the end of April, before posting a photo of his work. “RECORDING,” the sign said, in big capital letters. “APPRECIATED TIPS. “
This story has been updated to include additional information from Uber.