Uber, which owns scooter company Jump, had until 5PM PST Tuesday to start providing real-time location data of its scooters to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT). In a letter to LADOT shared with Motherboard, Uber says it will not share this data due to a number of privacy concerns, and says it will file a lawsuit to stop LADOT from suspending the company's permit to operate in the city.
The city wants the anonymized data so it can make sure that scooters are being made available to lower-income residents, and to check which companies may be ignoring rules that limit the number of vehicles they are allowed to operate. Activists are concerned about the privacy implications of sharing such data with the city, and argue it could, if deanonymized, unmask individual riders.
"While all other permitted scooter and bike companies are complying with our rules, Uber has repeatedly refused," the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) said in a statement.
"L.A.’s requirements have been clear since last November, and Uber agreed to abide by them. By 5 pm [Tuesday], we expect Uber to come into compliance or they will face suspension proceedings, which could eventually lead to revocation of their permit," the statement added.
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On Monday, Uber wrote a letter to Marcel Porras, chief sustainability officer at LADOT, which read, "Given that we seem to have exhausted all other avenues to find a compromise solution, tomorrow we will file a lawsuit and seek a temporary restraining order in the Los Angeles Supreme Court, so that a judge will hear these concerns and prevent the Los Angeles Department of Transportation from suspending our permit to operate." Uber provided Motherboard with a copy of the letter.
In April, activist group the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in a blog post, "even with names stripped out, location information is notoriously easy to re-identify—particularly for habitual trips."
Even if Uber and activists do have privacy concerns, it's important to remember Uber's track record of strong-arming itself into new markets while ignoring regulatory measures that are designed to benefit of cities and their citizens.
"Jump riders in Los Angeles have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the trip data created from riding on our bikes and scooters," Uber said in a statement. "Independent privacy experts have clearly and repeatedly asserted that a customer’s geolocation is personally identifiable information, and—consistent with a recent legal opinion by the California legislative counsel—we believe that LADOT's requirements to share sensitive on-trip data compromises our customers' expectations of data privacy and security."
"Therefore, we had no choice but to pursue a legal challenge, and we 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,” it continued.
Other scooter companies, such as Lime and Bird, have agreed to the data sharing arrangement.
"LADOT has the responsibility to manage the public right-of-way, ensuring safety and access for everyone. To be effective, the department requires reasonable information about the tens of thousands of shared vehicles operated by transportation technology companies that use our streets for profit," LADOT's statement added.
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