↑ Credit: Jump
Cities and PTAs are asserting their authority to get the mobility data required in licences granted to free-floating mobility operators, but is this an infringment of rider privacy ?
LADOT to suspend Uber scooters, bikes as data-sharing lawsuit looms
- A months-long struggle came to a head on Monday when Uber sent a letter of intent to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) threatening a lawsuit to protect its dockless bike and e-scooter data (under the Jump brand). Despite intentions to file a lawsuit with the Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, that action had not yet been taken as of Wednesday morning, Uber confirmed with Smart Cities Dive.
- Last week, LADOT notified Uber that it was not in compliance with the agency’s requirement that mobility companies report certain trip data via the Mobility Data Specification (MDS), as mandated in their one-year operating permits. LADOT said in an emailed statement that Uber is the only operator that has”repeatedly refused” to comply. Uber says the city’s mandate violates its customers’ privacy.
- LADOT warned Uber that if it did not come into compliance by 5 p.m. Tuesday, the company would face suspension proceedings. LADOT confirmed in an email to Smart Cities Dive that Uber was notified of those proceedings at 5:01 pm on Tuesday evening.
According to LADOT documents, Uber was found to be out of compliance with some data reporting requirements shortly after it was granted a one-year operating permit that took effect April 15. LADOT repeatedly was in communication with Uber on the matter, and the company cited a system issue that would be fixed with a technical migration during the summer. But in July, the company notified LADOT that it would not provide the requested trip data because it raises privacy concerns for customers’ information.
LADOT was heralded as a trailblazer for establishing the MDS last year. Many city leaders view it as a way to get a better handle on the rapidly evolving and expanding micromobility space by gathering, analyzing and comparing real-time (or near real-time) data from mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) companies. The specification also serves as a measurement tool to help the transit agency enforce regulations.
LADOT made the project open-source and intended from its inception for other cities to adopt MDS to manage transportation information. This summer, more than a dozen cities — including Austin, TX; Chicago; and Louisville, KY — and private partners launched the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF) to build and govern open source transportation technology tools; OMF governs the MDS.
Although many city governments and private partners laud and use the MDS, mobility companies have taken issue with elements of it from the start. Uber and its competitors, including Bird and Lyft, lobbied to prevent governments from being able to track individual user trips on dockless devices in this way. They say it creates serious privacy concerns about what governments are doing with citizens’ data, not to mention trust issues from such Big Brother-esque practices.
A number of citizen and civil rights groups side with the mobility operators. The Center for Democracy and Technology, the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation all have spoken out against the MDS and similar governmental data-sharing requirements.
This week could end up being a watershed moment for micromobility, depending on what happens between LADOT and Uber. LADOT’s pending suspension of Uber’s operating permit will send a message to other companies that it won’t budge on data collection, despite protestations. But Uber’s plans to move forward with the lawsuit has the potential to set new precedents for consumer data collection and use.
“[W]e sincerely hope to arrive at a solution that allows us to provide reasonable data and work constructively with the City of Los Angeles while protecting the privacy of our riders,” Uber wrote in an emailed statement to Smart Cities Dive.
Read also: https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2019/10/uber-lawsuit-data-privacy-scooter-tracking-los-angeles/600985/