Electric Scooter

L.A. to Uber: Either Hand Over Realtime Data on Scooter Riders or Get Out of Town

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation's data-sharing requirements for dockless mobility companies have been criticized for invading users' privacy and violating state law.

|

Uber and Los Angeles are headed for a showdown over the city's controversial data-sharing demands. If Uber loses, the company's dockless electric scooters and bikes could disappear from city streets.

Jump, a dockless mobility company acquired by Uber last year, has a permit to rent out those scooters and bikes for use on city streets. But last week the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) threatened to suspend the permit over the company's failure to provide the city with data on the riders' realtime locations.

Uber has argued, with the support of several privacy organizations, that this requirement violates both its customers' privacy and California law. Rather than submit to LADOT's demands, the company promises to sue.

"Jump riders in Los Angeles have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the trip data created from riding on our bikes and scooters," an Uber spokesperson told Reason. "Therefore, we had no choice but to pursue a legal challenge."

LADOT argues that its data-sharing rules are needed to enforce the city's scooter regulations and that Uber is an outlier in refusing to comply with them.

"Every other company that is permitted in Los Angeles is following the rules," an LADOT spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times. "We look forward to being able to work with Uber on getting them into compliance."

For now, Jump scooters and bikes are still available for hire on L.A. streets. The company has until Friday to appeal LADOT's decision.

The origins of this dispute go back to late 2018, when Los Angeles unveiled a pilot permitting program for dockless mobility companies. To obtain one of these permits, companies were required to obtain insurance for their vehicles, to ensure their vehicles were properly parked, and to develop an equity plan for low-income riders.

Scooter providers were also required to submit realtime data on rides, including time-stamped location data and start and end points, to the city.

At the time, LADOT promised to treat the data as confidential. It also argued that its data-sharing requirements respected users' privacy because the city was not demanding personally identifiable information.

Privacy groups were unimpressed. In a November letter to Seleta Reynolds, LADOT's general manager, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) argued that the department did not sufficiently specify how it would prevent the theft or abuse of the data.

The CDT also argued that the data could easily be used to identify individual users, noting that "when persistent identifiers are connected to historical location information, individuals can be personally identified with reasonable ease."

To allay these concerns, LADOT published a list of data protection principles in March, promising to collect only the data necessary for its mission of protecting public rights-of-way, to limit third-party and law enforcement access to that data, and to adopt stringent security safeguards.

In an April blog post, Nathan Sheard of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) declared LADOT's data protection principles a "list of aspirations and buzz words" that are "a far cry from the transparent, actionable, and enforceable data privacy policies we would expect of any city agency demanding this level of sensitive information about Los Angeles residents."

Both the EFF and CDT argue that collecting realtime, individualized data on the companies' customers amounts to government surveillance that with minimal effort could reveal reams of sensitive information about an individual user. As EFF pointed out in an April letter to the city, the data collection system "could reveal trips to Planned Parenthood, specific places of prayer, and gay-friendly neighborhoods or bars. Patterns in the data could reveal social relationships, and potentially even extramarital affairs, as well as personal habits, such as when people typically leave for work, go to the gym, or run errands, how often they go out on evenings and weekends, and where they like to go."

LADOT's data requirements could also violate the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA), which requires government entities to obtain a warrant before accessing electronic user information.

In August, the state legislature's Legislative Counsel—a government body that drafts state bills and provides legal advice to legislators—issued an opinion finding that CalECPA prohibits local government departments from "imposing a real time data sharing requirement on a dockless mobility provider as a condition of granting a permit."

Reynolds has challenged that opinion, arguing that CalECPA was intended to restrict law enforcement agencies trying to access electronic communications, not regulatory bodies trying to keep the sidewalks clear.

The question of how much CalECPA ties L.A.'s hands will now probably be hashed out in court. Uber has yet to file a lawsuit, but it is likely do so in the near future.

NEXT: This Chronicle of Sloppy Alcohol Breath Testing Highlights the Hidden Problems With Supposedly Scientific Forensic Evidence

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. LADOT argues that its data-sharing rules are needed to enforce the city’s scooter regulations and that Uber is an outlier in refusing to comply with them.

    Certainly helpful in knowing that if you ride a non-Uber scooter your every move has been recorded thusly with the LADOT.

    1. Yeah, that particular line seems like a gift to Uber, to me. Surprisingly, I’d wager they didn’t have to bribe anyone for it, I think Californian regulators are just that clueless (regarding how ridiculously Orwellian they sound).

  2. …CalECPA was intended to restrict law enforcement agencies trying to access electronic communications, not regulatory bodies trying to keep the sidewalks clear.

    That extra layer of bureaucrat on top of the arm of enforcement means the law doesn’t apply.

    1. You see bureaucracy, I see six figure salaries.

      1. There’s a difference? — Oh I see, bureaucrats get 7 figure tax-free salaries upon disability retirement.

  3. and to develop an equity plan for low-income riders.

    The fucking fuck they say?

    1. My thought exactly.

      I’m looking forward to Lamborghinis being banned from LA streets until Volkswagen Group/Audi/Lamborghini comes up with an equity plan for low-income (defined as those who can’t afford a new Aventador every year) drivers. I really need some equity.

  4. “could reveal trips to Planned Parenthood, specific places of prayer, and gay-friendly neighborhoods or bars.

    Rides to Trump Rallies, Gun Stores or the Christian Science Reading Room.

    Oh, right, better stick with the first list if we want traction on this issue. Can we get a gay Muslim woman with a Hijab to head up the opposition campaign here?

    1. To be fair, if I see someone on an E-Scooter, my immediate presumption is they’re heading straight to a gay-friendly neighborhood or bar. Which kind of precludes #1 on the list.

      1. As I watch them ride through the Financial District in downtown LA the only place I assume they are headed is to an emergency room. Those things just scream “traumatic brain injury” to me.

    2. I’m sure if they have the data that you’re going to a gay bar they probably already know you’re gay.

      However, what would the data show if you were constantly going to gay bars/bath houses and then making frequent trips to Planned Parenthood followed by a trip to a Mosque?

      1. A conflicted Muslim woman?

  5. ” . . . collect only the data necessary for its mission of protecting public rights-of-way . . . ”

    Say what?

    1. protect it from who and then why not collect all travel data form every car? we know why they will soon enough this just gets their foot in the door to monitor everyone at all times

    2. As my city has just allowed one of these e-scooter companies to invade they are quite quickly cluttering up the sidewalks, front yards, etc. My guess is that if the city can link where a scooter is dumped (often in the middle of the sidewalk aka. right-of-way) to a person then they can cite the rider (instead of the scooter company…which has certainly an agreement with the city to not be held liable/responsible).

  6. A state that can’t properly manage their forests or the homelesss situation wants ride time information for the sake of regulation!

    How much money do you want to bet that there are unlicensed people selling food and flowers on the streets of LA and OC? LA stopped code enforcement on street vendors because big bad wolf Trump might deport them.

    1. Yeah, just wait until the next blue team president and they start deporting with abandon again. All the sanctuary cities suddenly won’t be, because union votes are worth a lot more than non-voting illegal immigrants. Of course, this will go unremarked in the press, I’m sure.

  7. “”To obtain one of these permits, companies were required to obtain insurance for their vehicles, to ensure their vehicles were properly parked, and to develop an equity plan for low-income riders.

    Scooter providers were also required to submit realtime data on rides, including time-stamped location data and start and end points, to the city.””

    If Uber knew the permit process required the submission of realtime data, then they should be obligated to provide it.

    Rarely am I a fan of you agreeing to something to get a contract only later to complain about what you agreed to.

    1. equity plan for low-income riders

      It costs a fucking dollar. One dollar.

      1. And then 30+ cents per minute. Adds up quick, especially if you use them to commute.

    2. It’s a permit, not a contract.

    3. It’s not a contract. You can negotiate the terms of a contract. This is a law – and given its relatively apparent offenses against privacy law and common decency, it seems like one that deserves to be opposed.

      If your state suddenly decided that driving a car constituted consent to warrantless anal cavity searches at the whims of any officer who cares to pull you over, would you be arguing that “well, if they’re driving, they should be obeying the contract and bending over?” Hell no. They needed to get around, and the government has imposed an unreasonable violation of privacy as a condition of doing so – the government is clearly in the wrong here. The fact that Uber is doing the resisting on behalf of its customers is a plus; their legal department is a hell of a lot more intimidating than whoever was gonna work pro bono on the part of some poor scooter riders. Hooray freedom, fuck California, and fuck you too while you’re at it.

  8. Fuck those things. Recently went on vacation and people on those things were driving down the middle of the road blowing stop signs. Walked out of a Walgreens and tripped over one placed right by the door. Fell on my keys so hard I bent my house key.

  9. Let us know when the briefing is filed. otherwise, it’s just smoke. Do work on passing a law making any data collection or sharing of private persons by cops or government busibodies completely illegal.

  10. Given the size of their business and given how quickly it occurred, the out and out emasculation of Uber is, from top to bottom, plain old governmental gangsterism. I can’t think of a business, let alone one this large and this generally well received (except by the taxi industry), which was ripped to shreds this quickly by both the legislative and judicial branches of numerous local governments around the country. It’s unprecedented.

    1. Nah, it’s all about attitude. Businesses are generally circumspect about their resistance to government designs. Uber was brash about it, and thus needed to be made an example of.

  11. Why do they need data on the riders? Wouldn’t the data on the scooters tell them what they need to know about traffic patterns without being tied to specific riders?

    1. It’s about getting revenue from fining riders. The city has an agreement with the company that it won’t be held liable for haphazard parking of the scooters. Public complaints will be made since most of the time they are left in the middle of sidewalks, parking lots, private property, etc. To show that they are doing something, they will go after riders instead of the company, of course.

  12. “Every other company that is permitted in Los Angeles is following the rules,” an LADOT spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times. “We look forward to being able to work with Uber on getting them into compliance.”

    “Every other jew is wearing their star and getting on the train an LADOT spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times. “We look forward to being able to on getting them all into compliance.”

Please to post comments