Los Angeles

Privacy Concerns About Electric Scooters Lead to Changes

Companies concerned about information sharing say that at least one third party company is getting their hands on this data.

At least two electric scooter companies are among several groups raising concerns that the raw data being shared by scooter companies could put customers' privacy at risk.

Uber and Lyft, whose e-scooters are on the streets of Los Angeles under conditional permits, say they need clarity about how the data they provide the Los Angeles Department of Transportation will be handled before finalizing one year permit applications.

In letters to city and LADOT leaders, they expressed their worries about who potentially sees and uses the data they were asked to share in order to get a one-year permit.

It is information provided by scooter companies in almost real time. LADOT says having this data will improve safety, manage sidewalk clutter and make sure scooters are available in all communities.

In a letter to LADOT officials, Uber warned that "trip data" could " ... reveal a user's home, work and travel behavior with very little analysis needed ..."

Companies concerned about information sharing say that at least one third party company is getting their hands on this data.

LADOT confirms they have worked with a private company called Remix but says that group cannot use this raw data for other purposes, including to make money off of it.

Remix tells the NBC4 I-Team, "we are excited to help LA and many other cities use anonymized data to improve transportation options and infrastructure, which includes micro-mobility and public transit."

"Using this data is vital to plan better infrastructure for the future, like investing in protected bike lanes, assessing and enforcing compliance with mobility permit regulations, and helping to plan for additional transportation services that can complement what we have now," a Remix spokesperson added. Remix explains the company does not resell or repackage private mobility data in this blog post.

In correspondence dated April 5, a representative of Lyft asks for " ... for a delay of the implementation of these requirements until a formal, inclusive process to improve the policy and prioritize customer privacy has been undertaken ..."

Late last month, LADOT created a set of "Data Protection Principles" to clarify some of the ways the information and data is used.

The LADOT tells the NBC4 I-Team that it has now suspended the requirement for Mobility Providers to provide third party token access to Remix, adding "as our dockless program evolves to incorporate feedback, we want to make sure our third party partners also align with our Data Protections Principles proposed on March 22. We are working on a Third Party Data Usage agreement. The agreement would spell out the terms under which Remix can use our data and goes above and beyond terms we spelled out in the existing contract."

That includes but is not limited to:

  • Access-point location requirements
  • Access limitations
  • Security best practices
  • Credential restrictions
  • Application security and software development controls
  • Anti-virus
  • Vulnerability management and patching
  • Logging and monitoring
  • Vulnerability and risk assessments

Three companies, Lime, Bird and Spin have previously received one year permits to operate their electric scooters in LA, for a total of 22,500 scooters.

Here are several responses from electric scooter companies regarding the use of raw trip data:

"We support cities using some form of these data to make transportation — and life in cities — better for us all. We recognize the greatest barrier to the growth and adoption of micromobility services are dangerous, car-dominated streets, and hope that cities will use these data to redesign streets for safety, livability, and accessibility. But the precedent set by the City of Los Angeles is alarming: cities are wielding their power to force private companies to hand over data generated by private individuals, sometimes to other private companies, with no justification for the use of this power, or accountability for the protection of resident data," according to a spokesperson from SPIN.

"From the beginning, Bird has been steadfastly committed to the privacy of our riders. We want to partner with cities as they build and improve their infrastructure so that e-scooters and other micromobility options are available and safer for more people, while ensuring the privacy of our riders. We look forward to continuing to work with LADOT and other cities on the responsible implementation of mobility management tools and data sharing," a Bird spokesperson said.

The city says there will be various ways the monitoring technology will work, including allowing people to report improperly parked and broken down scooters through MYLA311. According to LADOT, scooter operators will have two hours during a certain period of the day to pick them up. This service is covered by the permit fees from each operator, LADOT said.

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