Uber Technologies Inc.
has requested a hearing with Los Angeles officials after the city suspended its permit to rent out electric scooters over a data-sharing dispute.
The move, made last week, buys Uber more time during which it can continue renting its Jump-branded scooters to customers. The hearing hasn’t been scheduled yet.
At the heart of the issue is Los Angeles’s requirement for companies to share real-time information on such rentals. The city says it needs to track the movements of about 39,000 rental scooters and bicycles in order to manage its streets effectively and to ensure companies are sticking to restrictions on the number of vehicles they operate. All seven other dockless scooter providers operating in Los Angeles have complied, city officials note.
The Los Angeles Department of Transportation gave Uber 10 days to request the hearing after issuing a temporary suspension Oct. 30.
Uber argues the requirements are invasive and could threaten public safety.
“By demanding real-time information about people’s movements, LADOT is an outlier among hundreds of cities around the world—and independent privacy experts and advocates raised the alarm more than a year ago that LADOT’s misguided technique poses serious risks to consumer privacy,” an Uber spokeswoman said.
The city has said that it anonymizes the data it collects, but privacy advocates and Uber have argued that geolocation data in itself is personally identifiable. The Center for Democracy and Technology, for instance, has suggested that if such data were to be compromised by hackers or misused by officials, it could enable stalking or surveillance.
The hearing won’t focus on data-privacy issues. Instead, it will examine whether the Department of Transportation acted properly in issuing the temporary suspension, the department’s general manager,
said in an interview.
Compliance with these requirements, she said, was a condition of granting Uber its permit in the first place.
“In their defense, they can bring up whatever they would like to explain why they did certain things or did not do certain things. But the parameters of the hearing are really just about whether LADOT acted properly in our regulatory authority by suspending their permit,” Ms. Reynolds said.
The Uber hearing will be conducted by a city official, she said.
If the hearing comes down in favor of her department, Ms. Reynolds said, Uber can appeal its suspension to the city’s Transportation Commission, but the department has the right to disagree with its findings. The Transportation Commission is a board of appointed officials from the public, private and academic sectors that has regulatory powers over vehicles for hire and that reviews proposed ordinances affecting city streets, such as speed limits, among other areas.
Out of eight dockless scooter providers in Los Angeles, including
and Bird Rides Inc., Uber is the only company that hasn’t complied with the real-time data-sharing requirements of the Mobility Data Specification, a platform built for the city by Lacuna Technologies Inc.’s Ellis & Associates business.
Ms. Reynolds said she agrees there needs to be more discussion about data privacy, although she disagrees with Uber’s assertions. The problem with a wider conversation, she said, is that the topic of data-sharing for scooters is unlikely to attract a representative audience at a public town-hall meeting.
Instead, the city is creating an advisory board, comprising community organizations and other stakeholders, which will discuss the technical aspects of the data-sharing platform and publish its findings. Ultimately, she said, these findings could form the basis for a set of standards governing data collection and usage that could apply to both the public and private sectors.
This is important, as many cities consider the Los Angeles system a template they can use to manage services including those provided by Uber and Lyft, standardizing such data transfers rather than developing individual systems. Over a dozen major U.S. cities are members of the Open Mobility Foundation, which governs the development of the MDS platform for use beyond Los Angeles.
“In the past, what happened is that private companies were able to pick cities up and pit us against each other, because we weren’t really coordinating very well,” she said.
Write to James Rundle at [email protected]
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