Uber sues Los Angeles over data collection

Uber sues Los Angeles over data collection
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Uber filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Department of Transportation Tuesday, intensifying its disagreement with the local agency over the city’s requirement for the company to share live location data for its dockless scooters.

The ride share company argues in the complaint that providing real-time location data could allow government agencies or hackers to obtain information about the daily lives of residents and violate their privacy.

The lawsuit was officially filed by Social Bicycles LLC, which runs the dockless scooter company Jump. Uber acquired Social Bicycles in April 2018.

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The company alleges this "highly personal" data could be utilized to target certain groups, stalk individuals or commit fraud, The Wall Street Journal reported

Uber alleges the city’s data collection policies violate state and federal law, including the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unlawful search and seizure. 

"This is not a decision we take lightly, and not a step we wanted to take, but after eighteen months of searching for a compromise, LADOT refuses to address the fundamental privacy concerns raised by us and independent experts," Uber Chief Privacy Officer Ruby Zefo said in a blog post.

Uber began collecting the real-time data earlier this month to prevent the city from removing its scooters. Previously, data came in with a 24-hour lag. But names and other identifiable information are removed from the data before collection, the Journal noted. 

Los Angeles officials claim they need the data to monitor traffic on public streets, as ditched dockless bikes and scooters can present a traffic hazard. City representatives argue that Uber is using the invasion of privacy argument to stop regulation and limit the amount of information shared about its company.

“That fear of data collection as the slippery slope towards full government regulation is very much in the DNA of these companies,’’ Seleta Reynolds, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, said in an interview, according to the Journal. “It’s because of the history of how they launched and grew up.”

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A department spokesperson Connie Llanos said the department "cannot comment on active litigation" but confirmed it received late Tuesday night.

"This is unfortunate timing on the part of Uber, as the city's resources are consumed by responding to the pandemic," Llanos said.

"As we have said before, our common sense data requirements allow the city to permit one of the largest dockless mobility programs in the country," Llanos added, saying all eight companies operating in the city are following the rules.

Seleta Reynolds, the general manager of the department, said in an op-ed that the data collecting has allowed it to decrease complaints about scooters in inconvenient locations by 73 percent.

The lawsuit comes as cities are figuring out how to regulate dockless bikes and scooters from different companies that are left on public streets without overstepping and invading privacy. Other cities are looking to Los Angeles to see how this lawsuit proceeds, the Journal noted.

Updated on March 26 at 1:29 p.m.