Uber launches new service to help health officials trace coronavirus cases among riders

Free service is being offered to governments in all countries where Uber operates

Andrew Naughtie
Tuesday 21 July 2020 16:57 BST
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Uber has launched a free service to help public health officials trace riders and drivers who may have been exposed to Covid-19.

It comes as various US states struggle to stop the spread of the virus, with slow testing turnarounds and dwindling supplies making their efforts even harder.

Uber, which has long been sharing data with US authorities in criminal cases and emergencies, is promoting the new free service to health officials in all countries where it operates.

Designed specifically for use by health authorities, the new platform provides data on who has taken journeys with Uber and when, aiding in the tracking of people affected by or exposed to the virus. Data on any given individual can be accessed within a matter of a few hours.

Uber’s chief of global law enforcement, Mike Sullivan, told Reuters that the company began exploring how its data could help fight the outbreak as early as January, when company executives met with local authorities in Los Angeles to discuss how they could work together.

The company says that since then, it has received around 560 coronavirus-related data requests from health departments in 29 countries, as compared to only 10 globally in the whole of 2019. Only 158 of them were from authorities in the US.

Mr Sullivan said that when working with health authorities, “we want to make sure that they are the experts and we follow their recommendations” as to whether a user is blocked. Those who are confirmed to be infected are automatically barred for the platform for two weeks.

Contact tracing is managed differently across the US, which does not have a single overarching public health infrastructure. In some areas the state authorities are in charge, but in others it is run at the city or county level.

While many areas – including some of the worst-affected – do not use ride-hailing data, others have been reaching out to ride-hailing companies for some time. In Massachusetts, for example, whenever an infected person tells investigators they used a ride-hailing app, the state’s health department can request data from Uber or competitor app Lyft.

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