UPDATED 21:33 EDT / OCTOBER 29 2019

POLICY

Uber sues Los Angeles over scooter location data-sharing requirement

Uber Technologies Inc. has filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Department of Transportation over the department’s attempt to obtain the location data of Uber-owned scooters in the city.

The lawsuit, filed Monday and first reported by CNET, claims that LADOT’s demand that scooter data be shared compromises privacy and security. LADOT introduced the requirement for location data sharing in September 2018, arguing that it was for city planning purposes.

Uber is also seeking a temporary restraining order against the suspension of its license for being in breach of local regulations by not sharing location data.

The data-sharing requirement, officially the Los Angeles’ “Mobility Data Specification” plan, is not unique. Cities such as Seattle, Austin and Louisville have similar data-sharing requirements, though with at least one difference: Only Los Angeles requests real-time location data.

“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,” an Uber spokesperson said. “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.”

In response to the lawsuit, LADOT argued that it has a responsibility to manage the public right-of-way to ensure safety and access. “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,” the department said. It added that other providers in the city had been providing the location data.

Uber entered the Los Angeles market after it acquired Jump Bikes Inc. for $200 million in April 2018.

Although it can be argued that at least some location data could assist LADOT with planning, the privacy issues raised by demanding real-time location data are another matter. Uber, not always popular in the past because of its own practices, may be on the right side for a change given that privacy has become a big issue particularly following the Facebook Inc. Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Photo: quintanomedia/Flickr

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