Sitting in the back of a cab can have a confessional allure: Sealed off to the world, you can take a private moment for yourself or have a conversation — casual or deeply intimate — with a driver you will never see again.
Now imagine finding out days later that those moments were being streamed live on the internet to thousands of people. What’s more, some of those people paid to watch you, commenting on your appearance, sometimes explicitly, or musing about your livelihood.
This was the reality for potentially hundreds of passengers of a ride-hailing service driver in St. Louis, according to a lengthy article published in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch this weekend.
In it, Jason Gargac, 32, a driver for Uber and Lyft from Florissant, Missouri, described an elaborate $3,000 rig of cameras that he used to record and livestream passengers’ rides to the video platform Twitch. Sometimes passengers’ homes and names were revealed.
Gargac told the newspaper that he sought out passengers who might make entertaining content, part of capturing and sharing the everyday reactions that earned him a small but growing following online. Gargac said he earned $3,500 from the streaming, through subscriptions, donations and tips.
He said that at first he had informed passengers that he was recording them, but the videos felt “fake” and “produced.”
On Sunday, however, as news of Gargac’s scheme circulated around the internet, his actions were repeatedly summarized in one word: creepy.
Gargac could not be reached for comment Sunday. Uber reportedly suspended him, but the ride-hailing company did not respond to requests for comment. Lyft said in a statement on Sunday that Gargac had been “deactivated.”
“The safety and comfort of the Lyft community is our top priority,” it added.
On Saturday morning, Gargac tweeted that to him, “transparency is always key.”
“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,” he said, referring to on-demand videos on Twitch. “I’ve done that,” he added, “for now.”
His story appears to be full of contradictions. Gargac livestreamed people without their knowledge as he tried to become a police officer. He started driving in order to record and broadcast people. He asked a Post-Dispatch reporter to not use his full name in the story, to protect his privacy.
The story also raises a host of 21st-century questions about technology, when people should expect privacy and the business models of ride-hailing companies like Lyft and Uber. They have come under scrutiny for the oversight of their drivers, which they consider independent contractors and not employees.