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Uber is introducing a service that will allow parents to track their teenage kids

By Greg Hadley

ghadley@mcclatchy.com

An Uber car drives through LaGuardia Airport in New York, Wednesday, March 15, 2017.
An Uber car drives through LaGuardia Airport in New York, Wednesday, March 15, 2017. AP

As Uber attempts to recover from a string of high-profile public relations fiascoes, it’s introducing a new feature in an attempt to boost its ridership among families.

The new service, which is currently only being tested in certain areas, will allow parents to create a “Family Profile” with their children. The point of it all, according to an ad and press release from the ride-sharing giant, is to cater to busy families with teenagers who need transportation without getting their own car.

“We all wish we could be in multiple places at once. But until then, Uber can help families with the logistics,” the company’s press release states.

However, the service is already facing criticism, some of it facetious and some of it more serious.

On the less serious end of the spectrum, outlets such as Mashable have pointed out UberTeen is unlikely to prove popular with teenagers, because the service notifies parents whenever their children hail a ride and allows them to track their movements, even for up to 20 minutes after their ride ends.

As one spokesperson told the Columbus Dispatch: “If, in the middle of the trip to basketball practice, for instance, the teens decide they would rather go to their friend Andy's house, parents automatically get a notification so they can say, ‘We know where you are — and get back to basketball practice.’”

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 16 percent of parents with children age 13 to 17 say they’ve used monitoring tools to track their child’s location. However, some psychologists warn that over-monitoring can harm parent-teen relationships, per USA Today.

On the other hand, Uber has faced allegations of ignoring or downplaying complaints of sexual assault by its drivers, per BuzzFeed News, so allowing children to ride unaccompanied in a car with a stranger presents an obvious area of concern. Indeed, in a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, just 30 percent of ride-hailing users who are parents said they think the service is a good way for children to get around safely.

In order to address those concerns, Uber said in its press release that teenagers who use UberTeen will only be assigned “experienced drivers who have received consistently high ratings from our community of riders.”

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