On Sunday, Uber and Lyft fired a driver for allegedly livestreaming hundreds of rides with passengers to an audience of thousands, according to a report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Jason Gargac, a ride-hailing app driver in the St. Louis area, had uploaded dozens of hours of footage featuring passengers of all shapes and sizes to his Twitch channel, JustSmurf, before it was taken down. From children, to public figures, to your average slightly-tipsy adult — no rider appeared to have been spared the disturbingly exhibitionist treatment, which included what seems to be high quality video and audio. Passengers’ personal details, like first names and occasionally last, were regularly revealed on-air to a shadowy audience of around 4,500 followers and some 100 paying subscribers.
Though the videos are currently unavailable due to the deactivation of Gargac’s account, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s descriptions of events is just as chilling:
Gargac, a bearded Army veteran in a baseball hat, speaks into a camera mounted on his windshield while he waits outside Ballpark Village.
He had gone over 30 minutes without passengers and his stream was losing viewers.
“This better be (expletive) content, I swear to God. This better be (expletive) content, that’s all I’m saying,” Gargac says as the two women approach. “I mean, the blond girl looks kind of cute, if they’re together. The blonde is cute. The one who ordered is not.”
His stream shows the women getting in the car. They compliment the purple LED lights, not knowing they serve to illuminate passengers for the camera.
They say they are going to a bar across town, and one of the women tells Gargac she has a crush on a friend she’s going to meet.
“I really have this issue of telling Uber drivers my whole life story,” she says.
“It’s OK,” Gargac replies, laughing.
Soon Gargac’s channel gets a new follower, and viewers pick up. Crass jokes fill the chat. Someone claims dibs on the blonde.
Though Gargac’s actions weren’t technically illegal under Missouri law — which only requires the consent of one party for recording — the whole affair raises questions about the ethics of livestreaming and our assumption of privacy in this modern, ever-connected era. Does a ride-hailing app driver have the right to tape his passengers without their explicit consent, then use and monetize that video? Is a privately-hired vehicle actually a public space?
“Driver partners are responsible for complying with the law when providing trips, including privacy laws,” an Uber spokesman said in a statement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this month. “Recording passengers without their consent is illegal in some states, but not Missouri.”
Lyft said the same. But, of course, that all changed following the publication of the Post-Dispatch’s investigation. “The troubling behavior in the videos is not in line with our Community Guidelines,” said Uber in a new statement after the fact. “The driver’s access to the app has been removed while we evaluate his partnership with Uber.”