Lime e-Scooters Were Modified to Blare Sexual Messages at People

Vandals made the startup's e-scooters blare inappropriate things in an incident the company calls "not smart" and "not funny."
April 24, 2019, 5:59pm
Lime e-scooters were modified to blare sexual messages at people in Brisbane, Australia
Image: Shutterstock

Lime e-scooters in Brisbane, Australia were modified to play inappropriate recordings, a development the company called “not smart” and “not funny.”

The explicit messages were captured by social media users on video this week as they attempted to use the scooters. “Don’t take me around. I don’t like to be ridden,” one scooter blared in a video shared by 7News Brisbane. “If you’re going to ride my ass, then please pull my hair, OK?,” said one scooter in a video posted to YouTube.

Lime scooters make beeping sounds when operating normally, for example when they are unlocked. Last year, the Guardian reported that Lime scooters in Oakland were programmed to shout, “Unlock to ride me, or I’ll call the police,” when fiddled with.

“We are aware that a few Lime scooters in Brisbane have had their audio files changed by vandals recording over the existing audio file with inappropriate and offensive speech,” Taylor Bennett, a spokesperson for Lime, the California-based company that operates bike and scooter-sharing services like the one in Brisbane, told Motherboard.

The vandal physically broke into the audio file port, and did not access the scooters’ operating system. Eight scooters were affected and have since been removed from use. “It's not smart, it's not funny and is akin to changing a ringtone,” Bennett said.

Earlier this year, a glitch caused Lime scooters to stop suddenly, send riders flying, resulting in a broken arm for one user and facial injuries for another, the Brisbane Times reported this year. Lime said it identified and repaired the glitch, after being put on notice by the City. Lime is still operating in Brisbane.

While this incident doesn’t seem to have affected the functionality of the scooters, it demonstrates how smart scooters can have vulnerabilities that can be exploited. For example, researchers at security firm Zimperium recently demonstrated that they could force a Xiaomi e-scooter to brake and accelerate with a Bluetooth-enabled app.

The Brisbane incident, while not physically injurious (but definitely inappropriate), highlights how making previously “dumb” objects—like scooters—“smart” can open the door to some truly stupid actions.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.