Would you want Uber to know every time you were drunk?

A recent patent filing by Uber points to the ride-sharing app possibly using artificial intelligence to determine whether or not a user is drunk, which raises data privacy and ethical concerns for advocates of digital rights.
Uber's recent patent application to use machine learning to tell what state passengers may be in raises data privacy and ethical concerns for those critical of unchecked growth in the tech industry. (CP Images)

In the public consciousness Uber has become synonymous with a late night out.

For many it is the go-to way to get home after a night at the bar with friends. But what if Uber could actually tell if you were drunk? That's exactly what the ride-sharing app may be able to do in the not-so-distant future.

Uber recently applied for a patent to use machine learning to tell what 'state' — particularly drunk — a user is in. While this is just a patent and may not be developed further some critics worry about the future implications of this type of tech.

Bianca Wylie, co founder of Tech Reset Canada, a collective of tech industry insiders advocating for digital rights and ethical technological growth, says there is a minefield of ethical, data collection and privacy issues to navigate before a feature like this is rolled out. 

Bianca Wylie, co-founder of Tech Reset Canada, says that as citizens and consumers, we need to weigh the trade-offs we're willing to make in the name of convenience. (Calvin Thomas)

"Do I want Uber to know when I'm drunk? What does it mean for a corporation to have that information about me? How are they going to manage that, how are they going to store it?" she said.

According to the patent filed by Uber, the app would collect data about how you use your phone — how you type, the angle you hold your phone at, and the speed at which you walk, among other metrics — to determine whether or not you are inebriated.

It's not just that you're drunk. It's where were you before you were drunk? And where did you go after you were drunk, and where did you wake up?- Bianca Wylie, co-founder of Tech Reset Canada

The patent suggests that this feature would be used to only match drunk users with certain drivers or modify pickup and drop off locations to places that are well lit or easier to access.

As the company continues developing and testing their autonomous fleet, a system like this could also potentially be used as a way of charging riders for possible cleanup of, or damage to vehicles.

But Wylie also says that the collection and sharing of that data could leave passengers vulnerable in a number of unintended ways.

"It's not just that you're drunk. It's where were you before you were drunk? And where did you go after you were drunk, and where did you wake up?"

Another potential use for this type of tech would be one of the inescapable realities of life on the Internet — targeted advertising.

"You're drunk, are you hungry? You're drunk, are you thirsty? Are you hungover? This company delivers breakfast, there's a discount," Wiley said. "It's quite something to know that someone is in a 'state' and may be more receptive to certain messaging."

She also points to Uber's 'God View' scandal, where Uber execs reportedly spied on users' movements as entertainment at company launch events, as well as a massive data breach which the company failed to disclose to the 57 million users affected, as a sign that our data may not be in the safest hands.

Wylie said that despite the possible consumer benefits to tech like this, we as a society have to decide what trade-offs we're willing to make in the name of convenience. 

"As far as we think about data, we need to think about the humans that have access to that data and what that looks like and how to set up safeties."

Wylie believes that governments need to do more to ensure that the companies who do collect our data use it in responsible ways. She also said that it is imperative that the laws evolve to keep tech innovation from going unchecked.

Tech Reset Canada recently launched a petition called Digital Rights Now, urging MPs across Canada to develop legislation that protects and educates citizens of their digital rights in the rapidly evolving tech landscape.

This segment was written and produced by Ashly July.