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In Australia, hacked Lime scooters spew racism and profanity

The global scooter giant said the attack was ‘not funny.’

A Lime-S scooter in Paris. A small number of scooters in Brisbane, Australia were hacked, causing the devices to say profane things to potential riders. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)
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The video is straight out of a goofy, low budget horror movie: A row of bright-green Lime scooters, parked neatly on a sidewalk, have come to life, unleashing a filthy flush of human speech.

Delivered in Australian-sounding accents, the voices wail, make sexual demands and spew profanity upon anyone who nears them.

"Don’t take me around, because I don’t like to be ridden,” one of the least offensive scooters is saying in a video published online.

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It’s not a modern twist on Christine, the Stephen King novel — and subsequent 1983 horror flick — about a car possessed by a demonic spirit out for revenge. Instead, it’s the latest bit of bad fortune to befall Lime, the global scooter giant that has spent much of the last year spreading across the world and simultaneously battling negative headlines and head-scratching setbacks.

Since last summer alone, Lime scooters have caught fire, broken apart in use, and been recalled after a technical bug caused “sudden excessive braking during use.” The company said the latest incident — which affected eight scooters in Brisbane, Australia — was caused by a hacker who penetrated the scooter’s audio files.

“We are aware that a few Lime scooters in Brisbane have had their audio files changed by vandals recording over the existing audio file with inappropriate and offensive speech," the company said in a statement. "It’s not smart, it’s not funny and is akin to changing a ringtone."

"It’s disappointing that someone has taken this opportunity to poke fun at members of the community in a hurtful way that is so far removed from the values we hold as a company,” the statement added.

Despite being unsettling, the hacking did not appear to put riders at any physical risk. Lime said vandals did not access the compromised scooters operating system, but instead physically broke into the vehicle’s audio file port, an act akin to changing the ringtone on your phone.

The company said modifying a scooter’s operating system would require intimate knowledge of its software and engineering, expertise that’s limited to a handful of people in the world.

Pedestrians and e-scooters are clashing in the struggle for sidewalk space

Nevertheless, some experts have raised concerns about the potential for e-scooters operating systems to be hacked, putting riders in grave danger. In February, researchers at the security firm Zimperium carried out a demonstration showing how a hacker could remotely lock a Xiaomi M365 scooter, causing a rider to stumble into traffic.

In a statement online, the researchers said a potential hacker — using a Bluetooth-enabled app from nearly 330 feet away — could lock a scooter, deploy malware that could take full control of a device or target an individual rider, causing their scooter to unexpectedly brake or accelerate.

“Losing control of your scooter mid traffic can be lethal,” the video notes.

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