Grab temporarily stops selfie feature and taking audio, video recordings of car rides

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The National Privacy Commission orders Grab Philippines to stop requiring selfies and recording audio and video during trips, saying these may violate the privacy of riders. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 5) — Ride-hailing company Grab Philippines has temporarily suspended its selfie feature and audio and video recording after the National Privacy Commission (NPC) issued a cease and desist order against them.

"[We] recognize the mandate of the National Privacy Commission to protect user privacy," Grab said in a statement on Wednesday. "Passenger selfie feature and audio and video recording pilot have been temporarily suspended as we work with NPC to address their concerns."

In a statement on Wednesday, the NPC said it has issued a cease and desist order against the ride-hailing app for "deficiencies" in complying with the Data Privacy Act. In question was Grab's policy requiring a selfie verification, where customers need to take a photo using their phone camera to confirm their identity, which has been in place since October 2019.

The order also covers Grab's audio and video recording systems during trips, which have been on pilot run. Grab earlier argued that the videos taken will allow its employees to monitor trips live once a driver pushes an emergency button.

In 2017, a Grab driver was robbed and shot dead by carnappers who posed as passengers.

Grab explained that the selfie feature and in-car audio and video recording were implemented for the purpose of "protecting the ride-hailing community."

"These features follow the legal criteria for lawful processing of data," said Grab.

The commission also said Grab officials explained that these materials will be released to police "upon request" should complaints or disputes arise.

"The public, however, was not told any of this information through Grab PH’s privacy notice and privacy policy," the body added. 

It said there's no legal basis for deciding to harvest such data, and that there had been a thorough assessment of the benefits and risks of taking these information. While customers can opt out and withdraw consent for the in-vehicle audio and video recording systems, "the details on how to exercise such right were not sufficiently communicated to passengers through Grab message," the privacy body added.

"While this Commission believes that the security of passengers and drivers is a primordial concern, their privacy rights must not be disregarded," the NPC said.

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Grab added that it will cooperate with NPC by providing necessary documents and implementing corrective measures.

This is not the first time that the ride-hailing service was called out for privacy breaches. Last year, a Grab driver has been suspended for sharing actress Bela Padilla's home address to his fellow riders.