Friday, 6 January 2017

USA: Uber Required To Hand Over Passenger Trip Information By New New York City

A week after Uber's big launch, the California DMV finally pulled the registrations for Uber's 16 self-driving vehicles, effectively ending the self-driving pilot. The company puts its cars on the truck for California the next morning.

Now California lawmakers want the DMV to have more power to enforce its self-driving vehicle laws. Ting introduced Assembly Bill 87 on Thursday, which would give the DMV the authority to revoke vehicle registrations of any autonomous vehicles in violation and authorizes law enforcement to impound them if needed. If passed, it would also give the DMV the power to fine companies operating illegally up to $25,000 per vehicle per day. In Uber's case, if the law had been in effect, it could've faced a $2.8 million fine for its 16 vehicles operating over a period of seven days.

Uber told Business Insider that it remains committed to California, but does not have self-driving cars on the road at this time.

The ride-hailing company had previously offered rides to legislators, including Ting, before the release of the cars to the public. Yet the tide has turned against the company as a result of the battle with the DMV and the evidence of its car running a red light. In a statement, city supervisor Aaron Peskin said that he was "delighted" to support Ting's efforts to "reign [sic] in dangerous self-driving Ubers."

"These companies have demonstrated remarkable negligence in their attempts to prioritize profit over public safety, and it's refreshing to see a state representative step up to protect our residents," Peskin wrote. "San Franciscans are not guinea pigs and our public streets aren't experimental test labs."

The New York City Taxi & Limo Commission, or TLC, collects a number of pieces of information on every taxi trip in the city. This includes “pick-up and drop-off dates/times, pick-up and drop-off locations, trip distances, itemized fares, rate types, payment types, and driver-reported passenger counts.” (Pick-up and drop-off locations don’t use exact addresses and are reported at the neighborhood level, e.g. “Upper East Side” or “Astoria.”)

Ostensibly, the city uses this information to audit drivers’ self-reported working hours, which are restricted on a daily and weekly basis to keep fatigued, accident-prone drivers off the road.

As the new kids on the block street, ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft haven’t had to provide that data to the TLC. But now that the companies are an established part of NYC transit, the city wants access to riders’ destinations. (Uber currently only provides pick-up location and time.)

Uber says that since, in theory, this is primarily an argument about driving hours and fatigue, it offered to provide the city with detailed logs about its drivers’ hours, but was rebuffed. The TLC persisted, claiming it needs passenger drop-off information for other public benefits like traffic planning and analysis, and to identify drivers who break the law by running red lights, speeding and committing other infractions.

That’s not good enough for Uber, which says it’s eager to protect the privacy of its users and doesn’t trust the TLC to safeguard the information. (There’s a pretty good precedent for their concern.)

“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,” Uber told The Huffington Post in a statement.

That’s all well and good, but it’s worth noting Uber doesn’t exactly have a spotless record either when it comes to location data collection ― or properly securing that data.

After an update to its app in late November of last year, Uber began tracking riders’ specific locations for a full five minutes after their ride ends, even if the app is closed.

The company says the update helps “to improve pickups, drop-offs, customer service, and to enhance safety,” but it nevertheless caused sharp concern among privacy advocates. (You can halt the location tracking by manually disabling Uber’s permissions in your phone. Instructions here, courtesy of Uber).

And just over a week after Uber began its increased tracking, court documents surfaced in which the company’s former forensic investigator, Samuel “Ward” Spangenberg, testified Uber itself failed to adequately protect the sensitive data it collects every time a customer requests a ride.

That data includes much of the same information as that requested by the TLC, such as a customer’s name, location data, email address, payment amount and information about the device used to request the ride.

“When I was at the company, you could stalk an ex or look up anyone’s ride with the flimsiest of justifications,” Michael Sierchio, one former Uber employee, said at the time. “It didn’t require anyone’s approval.”