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Privacy Concerns Rise as Sharing of Scooter Data Becomes Mandatory

Scooter sharing companies have been trading data for the right to operate in US cities, and now, shared mobility actors such as Uber are raising privacy concerns over the “massive overcollection of data about movements of bike and scooter users” [1].

Electric scooter user data is extremely valuable for cities to understand how curb spaces are used and what infrastructure is needed. With the help of a new data standard – the Mobility Data Specification (MDS) – Los Angeles officials have found a way to mine data from private companies’ operations. To obtain permission for shared scooter and bike operation in LA, the company has to agree to share data with the Department of Transportation (LADOT) through MDS at a 24-hour basis. More and more cities are now taking the same approach: requiring the use of MDS to trade for a ticket to play for the micromobility operators. However, established operators are now concerned about the gigantic amount of data that they will have to supply the cities with.

Even with attempts to protect privacy, such as the legally binding “data protection principles” issued by LA officials, privacy advocates are still sceptical about how and what LADOT intends to use the data for. Pro-privacy groups, for example The Electronic Frontier Foundation, fear that governments could potentially surveil individuals based on the data they have in hand.

For mobility actors that have a wider range of fleets such as Uber, the scale of their concerns is even deeper, dreading that cities would begin to make sharing of user data for other modes of transportation mandatory and thus impact their core business. Uber’s privacy and security spokesperson Melanie Ensign said: “We are concerned that privacy-violating provisions of MDS will be expanded to other modes of transportation.”

Lawmakers in California, Florida and Massachusetts have begun to consider measures that enable a more governed data collection. To catch up with the hype, data-protection policies need to be improved to ensure users’ privacy and proper use of mobility data.  


Personal comments

As we are heading towards an era with connected and shared mobility solutions, we expose ourselves to more risks that we can hardly foresee, nor understand the consequences of. It is not hard to imagine that the deployment of MaaS is introducing more privacy vulnerabilities considering the massive data it brings with it. At the same time, gathering and using data can prove an extremely valuable tool for cities and other organisations in the quest to shape a more sustainable mobility system. In Europe, Scooter companies have also been using data as a bait to seek collaboration with cities under the terms defined in GDPR which strictly regulate the use of personal data.  However, is it really enough?


Written by Anne Faxér, RISE Viktoria.



1. 2019-05-13. Why Uber Is Fighting Cities Over Data On Scooter Trips .