Uber is gearing up to fight New York City over regulations that would require the ride-hailing company to hand over data on when and where its drivers drop off passengers.
The city says it would use the information for things like ensuring drivers aren’t driving too many hours without rest. But Uber worries sharing the information could result in a breach of sensitive rider information, and the company is enlisting passengers in an effort to defeat the proposal.
“Today, New York City requires Uber and other companies to hand over a lot of sensitive personal passenger data, including where you’re picked up on every trip. Now, New York City wants more. They’re trying to force companies to tell them where you’re dropped off, as well,” the company said in an email to New York City customers.
“Click below to send a clear message that enough is enough,” the email read, leading users to a tweetable link with the hashtag #TLCDontTrackMe.
The Taxi and Limousine Commission is seeking dropoff data as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Vision Zero” initiative to cut down on traffic fatalities, arguing it could more accurately calculate how long drivers are working by examining pickup and dropoff data. New rules would require for-hire drivers to transport passengers for no more than 10 hours per day, with an eight-hour rest requirement between shifts.
We “actually get zero passenger data,” said TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg in an email, underlining the “zero.” “They are the only ones that would have things like names and credit card info,” he said of the ride-hailing companies.
Ride-hailing companies are already required to submit pickup times and locations to the TLC. The commission says it has collected dropoff data from Yellow cabs since 2007, and Green cabs (which are restricted to certain sections of Manhattan and outer boroughs) since 2012, so “there’s nothing new about the TLC’s rules requiring data collection,” Fromberg said.
But Uber says the data could be manipulated, and the bid to collect dropoff data represents government overreach that puts the privacy of New Yorkers at risk.
“We have an obligation to protect our riders’ data, especially in an age when information collected by government agencies like the TLC can be hacked, shared, misused or otherwise made public,” company spokeswoman Alix Anfang said.
The company will fight the proposal in testimony before the Taxi and Limousine Commission at a 10 a.m. hearing Thursday.
Experts will testify on the company’s behalf that pickup and dropoff data could be breached at the expense of riders.
“By adding drop-off time and location to the collected data as proposed by the rule, the privacy risk posed by this dataset grows substantially, offering the TLC and anyone else who accesses it a comprehensive, 360-degree view into the movements and habits of individual New Yorkers,” reads written testimony from Lauren Smith, policy counsel for the Future of Privacy Forum, testifying on Uber’s behalf. “Evidence shows that even with robust de-identification, the more data points that are added to a data set, the easier it is to re-identify individuals.”
Uber said data related to trip times, origins and destinations can be manipulated to reveal the identities and travel patterns of passengers, and sensitive data could be at risk — even if the data set includes encryption and other safeguards.
The commission, however, argues that it would protect the data, and trip logs without dropoff locations would be inadequate to measure driver fatigue.
“While this may technically make counting driver work hours possible, we strongly believe it’s insufficient, as it would not provide a reliable auditing mechanism (with drop-off locations, we can test the validity of trip durations and working hours), and would deprive the City and the public of the many other benefits of having drop-off information,” the commission said in documents provided in advance of the hearing.
“TLC will maintain the privacy and confidentiality of the additional data that it will be collecting because of these new reporting requirements, as it does with all data currently collected,” the commission said.
Watch the live stream of the hearing beginning at 10 a.m. here.