Uber driver suspended for live-streaming videos of his passengers without consent

An Uber car under surveillance
An Uber car under surveillance. (Photo: Twitch)

Some of us already assume that cameras are everywhere, and that we’ve reached Orwellian levels of security surveillance any time we’re in public. Still, unless we’ve signed onto a reality TV show, most people don’t expect to be a part of someone else’s entertainment. That’s what makes the story that an Uber and Lyft driver in St. Louis was live-streaming videos of his passengers without their knowledge such an unpleasant shock to many.

“I try to capture the natural interactions between myself and the passengers — what a Lyft and Uber ride actually is,” Jason Gargac told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this week of the videos he was streaming to his Twitch channel as “JustSmurf.”

Since March of this year, the paper reports, Gargac was driving for the ride-hailing services in his truck equipped with two cameras and purple LED lights to illuminate his passengers. After watching a couple of other drivers who streamed their passengers with consent, Gargac said he invested $3,000 in equipment. He became a driver to create the videos, he told the paper, though he also said he took up driving to earn money while he waited to land a job as a police officer.

At first, he also asked riders for consent.

“I didn’t like it. It was fake. It felt produced,” Gargac said of those videos. So then he opted not to ask for permission, which is legal in Missouri, where only one party has to consent to being recorded.

From then on, his viewers — eventually 4,500 followers — got to watch riders who were completely unaware of the cameras. Riders would make confessions to him about their families, friends, work, and crushes. They’d make out with each other. Basically, all the things people do in cabs, when they assume only the driver is watching. Meanwhile, viewers would rate women’s looks and make lewd jokes about them.

Gargac rationalized his methods, saying, “I have sex in my bedroom. I don’t have sex in strangers’ cars. Because I have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the bedroom in my own house. I don’t have that in a stranger’s car.”

But when the Post-Dispatch found some of his show’s unwitting stars, they did not see things that way. “It’s dehumanizing,” one woman said of the way she was objectified in the video. Another said she felt violated.

While at first Uber and Lyft told the paper that the companies could not be held responsible for Gargac’s content as long as he followed local laws, they apparently changed their tune after the story was published.

“The troubling behavior in the videos is not in line with our Community Guidelines,” read a statement from Uber to the paper. “The driver’s access to the app has been removed while we evaluate his partnership with Uber.”

Lyft also deactivated Gargac’s account, the paper reported.

“Just a heads up for everyone, as you all know….for me transparency is always key,” Gargac tweeted on Saturday, as news about his videos gained steam. “I’ve had a few offline conversations with some folks, and they suggested getting rid of the stored vods as step #1 of trying to calm everyone down. I’ve done that……for now.”

But by later that day, his Twitch channel was inaccessible, and it was unclear whether the site or Gargac himself had taken it down.

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