Uber driver Jason Gargac was triple-dipping in the gig economy. In addition to also driving for Lyft, he was live streaming his passengers on Twitch as he motored them around St. Louis.
On an average night, the driver, a U.S. Army veteran, made $150 to $300 from his ride-sharing jobs, he told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Gargac also said he earned about $3,500 over the past five months from viewer subscriptions, donations and tips collected on video streaming service Twitch.
The service, acquired by Amazon for nearly $1 billion in 2014, is best known for broadcasters’ streams of themselves playing video games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty. Among more than two million video streamers on Twitch there are those broadcasting about food, woodworking and painting — and a few like Gargac, who streamed from their vehicles as they drove for Uber or Lyft.
But passengers did not know Gargac was streaming video from inside his black Chevy Silverado. So riders unknowingly became content on a social video service, the latest revelation of how easily accessible streaming technology can publicize our normal activities.
More: What you do on Spotify is public and can be used against you. Here’s how to add some privacy
“It’s dehumanizing,” one woman passenger told the Post-Dispatch.
While watching on Twitch, some viewers at one point were assigning number ratings for women riders based on looks. Other times, they posted insulting and sexual comments.
“This is creepy,” one Twitch user posted, according to the Post-Dispatch, which watched dozens of hours of Gargac’s channel on the video streaming service.
Since the Post-Dispatch published its story Friday, Uber and Lyft have both fired Gargac, who was driving for the services while seeking to get a job as a police officer. “The troubling behavior in the videos is not in line with our Community Guidelines. We have ended our partnership with this driver,” the company said in a statement to USA TODAY.
Efforts to reach Gargac were unsuccessful Monday.
Uber suspended Gargac on Saturday before subsequently taking action to deactivate him from the service a day later. Lyft also severed ties with Gargac. “The safety and comfort of the Lyft community is our top priority, and we have deactivated this driver,” said Lyft spokesperson Alexandra LaManna.
Gargac’s Twitch channel also disappeared from the service.
Gargac, 32, from Florissant, Missouri, told the Post-Dispatch he initially installed the pair of cameras and wireless connectivity for streaming live as a way to protect himself while driving. Purple lights in the interior provided enough illumination to see riders and a control panel let Gargac switch camera views as he drove.
Initially Gargac told riders about the video setup. But their behavior changed with some even acting out for the camera, he told the Post-Dispatch. “I didn’t like it. It was fake. It felt produced,” he said.
Eventually, he quit telling riders about the live streaming setup because he decided he didn’t need riders’ consent. Missouri law only requires one party know about a recording — and allows recording where persons would have no reasonable expectations of privacy.
Gargac said he took measures to protect riders from excessive privacy violations. After his camera captured a view up a woman’s skirt as she moved across the back seat, he created a graphic he could activate to block out that portion of the seat, he told the Post-Dispatch.
Gargac also said his wife and other Twitch viewers helped remove inappropriate comments posted during videos.
Several passengers complained to Uber after learning about Gargac’s live stream, they told the Post-Dispatch. Uber gave them each a $5 credit and promised they would not again be paired with Gargac as a driver.
Passengers would have a tough time getting any legal justice in the case, said Chip Stewart, an attorney and journalism professor at Texas Christian University. Under Missouri law, passengers would have to prove any intrusion would involve “a secret or private matter that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person,” he said.
The ride-hailing companies disclaim liability for drivers actions in their terms of service and riders waive their rights to sue when using the services, Stewart said. “The behavior by the driver is clearly wrong, but the companies make it very hard to win damages against them for this,” he said.
When asked about the potential for privacy violations, Gargac told the Post-Dispatch that his truck is a public space.
“I have sex in my bedroom. I don’t have sex in strangers’ cars,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “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 not all riders agreed — and passengers contacted by the Post-Dispatch did not notice a sticker on the truck’s back passenger window that read: “Notice: For security this vehicle is equipped with audio and visual recording devices. Consent given by entering vehicle.”
Ironically, after talking with the Post-Dispatch, Gargac asked the reporter to not use his full name, something he had revealed on his own videos.
“Stick with my first name, if you can, because privacy concerns,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “You know, the internet is a crazy place.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.