By David Z. Morris
February 5, 2017

Potentially setting a major precedent for ride-sharing regulation, New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission Thursday approved regulations requiring companies like Uber to report detailed data on rides in the city. Similar rules, intended to prevent driver overwork and fatigue, had previously covered licensed taxis, but will now encompass all for-hire vehicles.

Uber has mounted a campaign against the rule, mainly citing privacy concerns. The legislation would not collect information on passengers’ identity, though such data can often be reverse-engineered for user information such as gender and race. New York’s Public Advocate has also opposed the rule.

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And the city has mishandled taxi data before, as when poorly-encrypted 2014 data revealed details about passengers, including (when cross-referenced with paparazzi photos) celebrities. That data was obtained through Freedom of Information laws, and according to the Center for Information Technology Policy, the new data could be requested by third parties through the same channel.

But while user privacy concerns may be legitimate, the ride-sharing companies’ objections may be more deeply motivated by concern for the business value of their ride data. That data helps ridesharing platforms improve matching between drivers and riders, and could in principle play a role in everything from calculating better routes to guiding future self-driving vehicles.

On the other hand, the data could be useful to cities for far more than preventing driver fatigue. Speaking to Wired, planners said the data could be used to evaluate demand for public transit and parking, to sync traffic lights for improved traffic flow, and even to evaluate storm recovery tactics.

The new rules present a rare defeat for ride-sharing companies, which have vigorously pushed back against city regulations that treat its cars the same way as taxis. In May of last year, Uber withdew service from Austin, Texas after the city imposed a rule requiring fingerprint background checks of drivers.

 

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