‘This is creepy’: In LA, scooters become the next data privacy fight
The next big political fight over data privacy may center on an unlikely piece of technology: The scooters currently flying around streets and scattered on sidewalks in cities across the country.
And as always, it’s brewing first in California, the state that last year enacted a landmark consumer privacy law that’s roiling Silicon Valley and Washington policymakers.
In Los Angeles, a dispute over how the city manages data embedded in Uber-operated scooters has emerged as a leading-edge privacy issue, foreshadowing a debate over the government’s role in managing sensitive data in a new era of connected transit.
City officials want granular location information on thousands of dockless scooters that are proliferating in the sprawling southern California metropolis. They say it’s critical to know what’s happening in their streets and ensure people are being served equitably.
But Uber’s dockless vehicle company, JUMP, is pushing back, arguing that the scale of data Los Angeles wants poses a menace to personal privacy.
In a letter to Los Angeles Department of Transportation manager Seleta Reynolds, the company warned of “an unprecedented level of surveillance, oversight, and control that LADOT would wield over private companies and individual citizens.” (Reynolds responded that those concerns were “uninformed, and therefore, falsely characterize” the situation.)
The clash opens another chapter in a long-running conflict between cities and mobility companies, like Uber, that previously sought to aggressively expand before getting official approval. Uber and Lyft have for years sparred with cities over access to what the companies consider valuable proprietary information.