Uber ads are coming, and they’re already raising privacy concerns

Uber ads are coming, and they’re already raising privacy concerns

In what they call “journey ads,” Uber is planning to start rolling out ads to its riders based on their travel history and their geographic locations.

Ubers’ new journey ads will be shown in the Uber app at least three times during the riders’ journey. The new feature will let brands place ads using data drawn from riders’ travel history and their precise geographic destinations, according to Uber. In an example from The Wall Street Journal, if a user books an Uber to a specific retailer, cinema or airport, for example, a company could buy ads centered on that location.

How the new ads will work. Though not available globally yet, Uber is testing the ads with a few brands at launch. The new product will also let brands sponsor an entire trip, starting with when a rider first calls a car. The ad spots will be sold on a per-trip basis instead of digital advertising’s common pricing by consumer impression, let brands show a user different ads at three points in the user’s trip: while waiting for a car, while riding in the car and upon reaching the destination.

The rider can also conduct transactions, such as clicking the ad to buy a product without leaving the Uber app, said Mark Grether, general manager of Uber Advertising. Separate pilot programs in the U.S. and India will also include ads on in-car tablets, he said.

Privacy concerns. It’s not news to anyone that the US has been facing abortion rights issues. With Uber’s new ad targeting products based on riders’ trip history, we have to wonder what this means for sensitive situations such as a rider who has taken a trip to an abortion provider.

Although this does raise concerns, platforms such as Google, Meta, and Simpli.fi have been tracking users’ locations for many years. The FTC even sued data broker Kachava Inc. this past August claiming that the broker was selling data that tracks people at sensitive locations such as reproductive clinics and places of worship.

According to The Wall Street Journal article, Uber’s advertising policy forbids targeting users by factors such as race, religion or sexual orientation, and it also prohibits basing ad targeting on certain types of destinations, including government buildings, hospitals and reproductive-health centers.

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What Uber says. An Uber spokeswoman said the company doesn’t share individual users’ data with advertisers. The data it does share is aggregated information or data related to ad-campaign performance, she said. Users can opt-out of targeted ads on the Uber app at any time, said Grether.

Why we care. Additional ad platforms and placements are usually good news for advertisers and brands. Ad space is expensive and competitive, so when a new player enters the chat, brands typically win, at least for a little while.

If your brand or client can benefit from Uber ads, keep an eye out for announcements on when they'll be rolled out globally. As always, act ethically, keep the rider in mind, and don't promote anything insensitive or controversial.

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