At South by Southwest this week, Uber drivers will be out in full force to cart festival-goers all over Austin, Texas, but that’s not all they’ll be doing. A portion of those drivers—approximately 20, as the Daily Dot has learned—will be asking passengers to answer marketing questions for a company that has absolutely nothing to do with Uber itself.
The company calls itself PaintVoice, and it wants to sell your opinions and mobile phone number to other third-party vendors. “We are introducing a new innovative way to advertise,” the company’s Craigslist ad reads. “We want to put your company in front of 100’s of Uber riders. We are asking your potential customers information that is pertinent to your business.”
It’s a fairly vague pitch, but PaintVoice makes some big claims: “If you choose to partner with us for SXSW, your company will be introduced to 100s of Uber [riders] with measurable results,” adding “We are using the PaintVoice application to literally get in people’s phones and connect with them about you.” The ad even claims PaintVoice “will be integrated with the Uber API,” which makes it sound at least somewhat credible.
Of course, after reaching out and getting some information from PaintVoice, it sounds anything but. In a response to a request for additional information about how this new advertising system will work, PaintVoice explained:
“So, we are going to have 20 uber drivers with tablets and card stock in their cars. On the tablets and cardstock there will be compelling questions pertaining to your business. We are going to ask the uber riders to vote ‘for’ or ‘against’ a certain topic via mobile sms short code. Once they do this, we capture their moblie [sic] phone number to engage them on your behalf. This is the very beginning for functionality for our business.”
Sounding more and more like an underhanded way to build a list of mobile numbers from SXSW attendees, we asked for additional clarification regarding mobile numbers and if drivers have already been tasked with carrying out this plan. “Yes, we already have the drivers,” PaintVoice replied, “and the mobile numbers can be used for targeted advertising.”
It’s easy to see how such a scam works: Uber passengers expecting nothing more than timely transportation to their destination are instead encouraged to participate in a vote of some sort, and the only way to log their vote is by texting it. They whip out their smartphones, tap in their vote, and go about their SXSW adventure. Their mobile number is then logged along with countless others for future advertising.
We spend so much time worrying about whether our login information, passwords, and digital security keys are going to keep us from getting roped into some type of online scam, that we rarely assume the same vulnerabilities exist in the real world. This type of ad scam is just as dangerous. If a company needs to use a scam like this to obtain your mobile number in the first place, it’s unlikely that it will follow established advertising rules and laws after the fact. A search for PaintVoice brings up nothing—no app, no website, nothing—which serves as an additional red flag.
We’ve requested comment and clarification from Uber regarding its stance on drivers participating in third-party marketing campaigns and will update as soon as we hear back.
Update: Uber has responded: “Uber is not affiliated with this company in any way, and we aren’t providing them any information about riders or drivers. We are continuing to look into this matter.”
Photo via Uber/Facebook