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Court Backs Mobility Data Collection Scheme in Privacy Case

Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) has won a lawsuit brought against it for requiring that e-scooters firms share real-time data with cities for mobility governance.

The victory of LADOT has marked a significant step in data sharing for mobility governance in cities. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claiming that LADOT’s demands on data raised privacy concerns. However, the court considered in the end that LADOT’s interests were “legitimate and substantial”.

LADOT uses micromobility data to monitor permit violation and handle safety issues. The data that LADOT requires from micromobility companies include real-time data to note the start and end of a trip, and also the full ride route within 24 hours. The data via Mobility Data Specification (MDS) – an open-source digital tool used widely in the U.S. that standardizes communication and data-sharing between cities and private mobility providers) – does not identify individual users, but ACLU still posed concerns that personal information of individual users could be determined when the data is combined with other information sources.

LADOT has had another long-running dispute with Uber on a similar issue with its Jump e-bikes and e-scooters. What happened there was that LADOT suspended Jump’s licence to operate in October 2019 after Uber’s refusal to share data, whereupon Uber attempted to sue LADOT in federal court. However, Uber transferred Jump to Lime shortly after, before the proceedings got properly underway.

Personal Comment:

Data from micromobility services is ultimately essential for city planning and authorities. MDS has been taken up by over 80 cities around the globe while other cities are increasingly looking into the possibilities to be able to collect and make use of micromobility data. However, privacy concerns will always be present as more and more data is gathered through the plethora of devices we possess or use, even though service companies (or municipalities) all claim that personal data is not collected. Finding the right balance between use cases that can benefit the public good, proportionate data collection and having necessary safeguards in place is key.

In Sweden, cities are becoming more proactive in this space and trying to figure out how aggregated micromobility data can be used for urban planning and mobility governance with the absolute minimum risk of violating personal data. This could potentially pave the way for some form of local Swedish or European adaptation of the MDS – which has not been widely adopted in Europe yet potentially due to the need to ensure it is consistent with GDPR requirements.

Written by Anne Faxér,
RISE Mobility & Systems (Innovationsorkestrering)