Nicole Pomarico
June 13, 2018 11:06 am

One of the most convenient times to use Uber is when you’ve had a couple of drinks and need a safe ride home. But what if your driver knew you were drunk before you even got into the car? Uber’s trying to patent a technology to tell if you’re drunk or sober based on the way you use the Uber app — but is this a good thing or not?

According to The Washington Post, Uber has filed a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to secure a technology that could detect drunken behavior based on how you use the Uber app. The company reportedly has no immediate plans to start using the technology, but the fact that it’s something Uber’s working on is definitely interesting.

The process starts from when you request a ride, and the data gathered at that point would be compared to data the app has from your rides in the past.

The patent application says that Uber wants to use that information to potentially match you with a certain driver…or possibly no driver at all, if your behavior seems too unusual.

But what is this “behavior” that would make Uber think you’re drunk? According to the application, increased typos and the angle at which you hold your phone while using the app are both signs that a passenger might be drunk — and that could trigger something called a “trip variation.”

The application states that these variations in behavior could mean “matching the user with only certain [drivers], alerting a [driver] about the user’s possible unusual state, and modifying pickup or drop-off locations to areas that are well lit and easy to access.”

It’s obviously concerning that the Uber app could potentially be recording that much data about you — and it’s even more worrying to think about what the company could do with your data without your explicit permission. But for now, Uber spokeswoman Jodi Page told WaPo that a patent being filed doesn’t necessarily mean this function will definitely be available in the future.

“We are always exploring ways that our technology can help improve the Uber experience for riders and drivers,” Page said. “We file patent applications on many ideas, but not all of them actually become products or features.”

On one hand, Uber drivers being prepared for drunk passengers and picking them up in better locations could help everyone stay safe. But on the other hand, your Uber driver being aware you’re intoxicated might be dangerous, too, and typos don’t necessarily mean that you’re drunk, either. What if people stop using the service because they don’t want Uber to know they’re drunk? That’s not good for anyone.

Critics have pointed out that holding your phone at a particular angle or texting typos could be related to a disability or other, non-alcohol related issue, so there are potential discrimination concerns with this technology, too.

Using Uber instead of driving when drunk is the responsible way to go out and have fun, so good for you if you always make sure you have a safe ride home. Drinking and driving is never okay — no matter what an app can or cannot detect.

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