According to a report by The Verge, Uber has said it will not share real-time electric scooter data with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) and is filing a lawsuit against the department.
The suit revolves around LA’s use of Mobility Data Specification (MDS), a program LADOT developed to monitor dockless scooters that are becoming commonplace in many cities. The data provided by MDS can be used by city planners to evaluate traffic patterns, add needed bike lanes and more. The promise of data that has previously been unavailable has led cities across the country to adopt and contribute to MDS. LA, as well as Austin, Chattanooga, Columbus, Louisville, Omaha, San Jose and Seattle are all making MDS participation a condition for companies to receive the necessary permits to operate.
Privacy advocates, however, are concerned that MDS gives cities unprecedented insight into people’s activity, since every part of a scooter’s route is tracked and recorded. Uber—who acquired scooter company Jump—along with Lyft and Bird have objected to MDS from the beginning and vowed to challenge the legality of the software. In particular, the company is hoping the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA), which became law in 2015, will provide it the legal teeth necessary to challenge LA’s position.
The state’s Legislative Council has ruled that MDS may run afoul of CalECPA, specifically as the law prohibits local governments from requiring real-time data in exchange for an operating permit. The only exception is if a specific rider waves their right to privacy, although it must be waved by the rider, not by the ride-sharing company acting as an intermediary.
Uber and Lyft are trying to get a temporary restraining order prohibiting LA from revoking their licenses. In the long-term, however, the legal battle over MDS will have far-reaching repercussions for privacy-minded individuals and corporations.