Are Increased Taxi Fares in Egypt Worth Your Privacy?

Posted on Posted in Transportation

Uber & Ride-Sharing Apps Can Compromise Your Privacy and Safety

As an expat or visitor in Egypt, you may think Egyptian taxi rides are the best deal around. The ride that costs you $25 back home, costs $2 in Egypt. Shockingly, an even cheaper and more hassle-free option is available: Uber.

You may get hooked on Uber and the convenience of being able to order a car and be picked up from anywhere, anytime. Knowing the price of the trip before you get in the car and not having to negotiate or worry about being overcharged is a sigh of relief. For a moment, you might question the safety of using an app that lets random drivers (and countless people behind the company that will have access to your information) know your address and your whereabouts at all times. But you brush it off and think, Nothing’s gonna happen.

It may be true that nothing will happen, but there’s one word that can make you decide it’s risky enough for you to delete the Uber app from your phone altogether: Grayball.

Simply put, Grayball is a software Uber uses to decide who it will provide and deny service to. It scans your phone to determine your identity before allowing you to pick a car to ensure that you’re not someone they could get into trouble for picking up. If you’ll be declined service, it sneaks around the issue and displays a phantom car headed your way that “cancels” just when you think you’ve got a a ride.

taxis in cairo egypt
Deciding between taxis and Uber is more complicated than we thought.

This is a huge red flag for Uber users because this means that Uber can intentionally scan all texts, call records, pictures, emails, social media accounts—everything in your phone to determine your identity. Intrusive, right?

Realistically, most apps installed on our smartphones have this capability but here’s where it gets very concerning: Uber has used it to evade law enforcement.

Here are some recent reports on investigations initiated as a result of Uber using Grayball:

How Uber Deceives the Authorities Worldwide

Uber Faces Federal Inquiry Over Use of Greyball Tool to Evade Authorities

Greyball: how Uber used secret software to dodge the law

This and many other recent Uber scandals may have you on the fence as to whether or not you’ll continue supporting the brand, but when in Egypt, it comes down to this:

  1. Uber is cheaper because taxi fares have gone up due to currency devaluation in Egypt. With the average taxi driver in Egypt earning around $400 per month, should we begrudge paying a few cents more per ride for their much-needed services?
  2. Mixing it up with taxi drivers in Egypt is one of the most exciting ways to learn Arabic. Some drivers actually try to teach you things during the ride, sometimes you learn through haggling. Sometimes, you get a talkative driver that loves to tell stories. Either way, it’s an adventure.
  3. You won’t have to worry as much about your privacy.

At the end of the day, there are some places you might go that will force you to arrange a hired or rented car in advance. Ride sharing apps may still be avoidable for these cases if you no longer want to play Grayball, or similar games anymore, but the truth is they’re still a super affordable choice.

The bottom line is: if you’re in an exclusive relationship with ride-sharing apps, it doesn’t hurt to keep your options open. Especially if it could mean getting back some of your space.