City wants data shared from electric scooters

Published: Mar. 25, 2019 at 8:11 PM EDT
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When you hop on an electric scooter in East Lansing, you're probably not thinking that the city is keeping an eye on your every move.

The city's new ordinance states companies like Bird and Lime must share user's location data with them, sparking a debate about user privacy.

Electric scooters are transportation devices, but they're also on track to becoming data collection devices.

The ordinance in East Lansing requests electric scooter companies share monthly trip data with them including starting and stopping points, distances, and routes.

"One concern with cities collecting this data is that they have access to very, very fine-grained information about the movements that takes one of these scooters that they didn't have access to before," said Emilee Rader, Associate Professor at Michigan State University's Media and Information Department. "It's very, very easy to make inferences about people's race, and their socioeconomic status, their religion, just based on their location data."

But George Lahanas, East Lansing's City Manager said the city only plans to use this data to keep track of licensing fees and to know where the scooters are being utilized.

"This data will all be largely aggregated so we're not going to be able to tell any individual rides or specific rides from any individual person. We're not going to have any people's names or identifiers," he said.

Lahanas added that other parts of city government like the police would be able to see the data without a subpoena so they can make policy recommendations.

"Again, this would be all largely aggregated data they would not have any information from a privacy concern."

Rader said that this type of surveillance could become the new normal.

"We collected data in this instance, and so the next tech that comes along, there's already a precedent for doing it. I think it's time for us to start having the conversation about, do we really want this? And if we do, then how should we govern and regulate it so it doesn't put people at risk," she said.

The city said the scooter companies would be in charge of protecting people's data as none of the data would be stored locally.

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