Uber denounces Los Angeles as the battle for scooter data escalates

The battle between the city of Los Angeles and scooter companies about location data is getting fiercer. On Monday, Uber filed a lawsuit against the LA Department of Transportation (LADOT) and pushed back the requirement that scooter drivers share anonymized real-time location data with the city.


The suit that was first reported by CNET but must still be submitted to the LA Superior Court, where the use of LADOT is central a digital tool called the mobility data specification program (MDS). The department created the tool as a way to track and control all electric scooters operating in the streets. MDS provides the city with information about where each bike and scooter trip starts, the route that each vehicle follows and where each journey ends. LADOT has said that the data will not be shared with the police without an order, contain no personal identification data and will not be subject to public records.

Of course, MDS has turned out to be controversial with scooter companies who have dared to share location data with the city. It becomes a bigger problem than LA. Cities such as Columbus, Chattanooga, Omaha, San Jose, Seattle, Austin and Louisville require scooter companies to agree to share data via MDS as a condition for their street activities.

Uber, owner of the dockless scooter and bicycle company Jump, said that MDS would lead to "an unprecedented level of surveillance" and vowed to stop it. It relies on a recent analysis by the California legal counsel to make his argument. The counselor said MDS may violate the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which entered into force in 2015.

In August, Uber and Lyft sent a letter to Attorney General Xavier Becerra in California, in which the companies claimed that LADOT exceeded its authority with MDS.

"Although we support the creation of a global standard for data sharing for local municipalities, it appears that certain MDS requirements for cities may conflict with CalECPA," the companies wrote. "We have repeatedly expressed concerns directly with these municipalities during the development and implementation of MDS, and yet they continue to need the MDS as a condition for our operating permits."

In a statement, Uber said it has exhausted its options and "had no other choice" than to sue the city.

“Jump riders in Los Angeles have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the travel data created by riding our bikes and scooters. Independent privacy experts have clearly and repeatedly claimed that a customer's geolocation is personally identifiable information and – in accordance with a recent legal advice from the California legislative advisor – we believe that LADOT's requirements for sensitive on-trip data to share, the expectations of our customers on data jeopardizes privacy and security. That is why we had no choice but to take on a legal challenge and we sincerely hope that we will come to a solution that will allow us to provide reasonable data and to work constructively with the city of Los Angeles while maintaining the privacy of our riders. is protected. "


A LADOT spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In an interview with The edge on September 9, LADOT director Seleta Reynolds said the city has "coded" privacy protection laws to give them "the power of the law."

She added that it is a "Day One job and a forever job" of city officials to ensure that the "open source tools that we build do not become tools that people can use to violate the privacy of others."