Are you being livestreamed in your Uber?

Should you find this story disturbing or comforting? An Uber/Lyft driver in St. Louis (many drivers work with both services) was found to be filming and livestreaming his passengers on social media recently. Some of the riders were clearly upset to find that their activities inside the car, in some cases including their full names and addresses, were being broadcast for the world to see. In response, the driver has been suspended from both services, but he’s apparently not broken any laws and has a rather reasonable excuse for why he was doing it. (arsTECHNICA)

A St. Louis Uber and Lyft driver has been kicked off both companies’ platforms after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday night that he had been livestreaming his passengers for months without their consent.

According to the newspaper, Jason Gargac, a 32-year-old man from Florissant, Missouri, had been giving hundreds of rides since March—and he has streamed nearly all of them live, under the Twitch handle “JustSmurf.” (His Twitch account has also been shuttered.)

As the Dispatch wrote:

Passengers have included children, drunk college students and unwitting public figures such as a local TV news reporter and Jerry Cantrell, lead guitarist with the band Alice in Chains.

The first question to deal with is whether or not Gargac has broken any laws and will be subject to legal jeopardy. The answer to that one appears to be obvious. Missouris is a state where recording conversations or other public interactions only requires the consent of one party involved in the interaction. (Which can be the person doing the recording.) So in that regard, Gargac seems to be in the clear.

But should he have been recording his passengers without telling them? The driver claims it was for his own protection. If your immediate reaction is to scoff at that, consider the number of drivers who have been accused of everything from rude behavior to rape or assault by riders. If they are guilty, they need to be held accountable and a recording would go a long way toward aiding that effort. But if the story is bogus or a misunderstanding on the part of the accuser, the driver can then defend themselves by showing what actually happened. I would suggest, however, that Gargac could have avoided a lot of trouble by having a sign in his vehicle clearly informing riders that the interior of the car was being filmed.

Going further than that, how much privacy do you believe you are entitled to while riding in someone else’s vehicle and traveling on public thoroughfares? I know my immediate, gut reaction is to think that drivers need to exercise discretion and turn a blind eye (or “deaf ear”) to the activities of their clients unless the riders are being destructive or discussing some sort of criminal activity. But you’re still out in public for the most part and certainly not within the zone of privacy of your own castle. Anyone, including the driver, can observe what you are doing and possibly even overhear what you’re saying.

That’s primarily a hypothetical discussion, of course, because we’re not talking about the government regulating the activities of citizens. Uber and Lyft are privately owned services and the drivers are independent partners in that business model. If they want to suspend Gargac for these activities, claiming that it goes against their terms of service, that’s entirely up to them. But if your driver is doing this and you plan to try to sue them over it you may have a very tough case to prove in court.