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Uber’s user tracking almost got its app removed from the App Store

This morning, the New York Times published an exposé of Uber, its CEO Travis Kalanick and its propensity for tracking user locations even when users aren’t actively using the app. One of the more interesting bits of news served up by the Times was that Uber at one point was nearly removed from the App Store — the distribution point that made the rideshare service such a success with iPhone users.

The story begins when Uber began to keep App Store employees in Cupertino from realizing that the Uber app was doing “fingerprinting” — a practice that is forbidden by Apple for any app distributed through the App Store. So Travis Kalanick “told his engineers to “geofence” Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., a way to digitally identify people reviewing Uber’s software in a specific location. Uber would then obfuscate its code from people within that geofenced area, essentially drawing a digital lasso around those it wanted to keep in the dark. Apple employees at its headquarters were unable to see Uber’s fingerprinting. “

However, Apple’s engineers caught on quickly to what was happening and reported the issue to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Cook wasted no time in inviting Kalanick to Cupertino for a meeting, opening the get-together with a terse “So I’ve heard you’ve been breaking some of our rules.” 

Cook went on to tell Kalanick to stop the fingerprinting or suffer the consequences — removal of the Uber app from the App Store. As noted in the Times story, “For Mr. Kalanick, the moment was fraught with tension. If Uber’s app was yanked from the App Store, it would lose access to millions of iPhone customers — essentially destroying the ride-hailing company’s business. So Mr. Kalanick acceded. “

Steve Sande
the authorSteve Sande
Steve is the founder and former publisher of Apple World Today and has authored a number of books about Apple products. He's an avid photographer, an FAA-licensed drone pilot, and a really bad guitarist. Steve and his wife Barb love to travel everywhere!