Setting the Record Straight on Rider Surveillance


Cities track vehicles, not riders


Cities claim that MDS location data is anonymous because it doesn’t include personal details like names and addresses. But with very little analysis, location data can reveal a rider’s home, work, and travel. The New York Times said, “It’s child’s play to connect real names to the dots that appear on the maps.” And Georgetown University information privacy expert Paul Ohm called it “a completely false claim” to describe location data as anonymous.


Cities don’t share location data with third parties


The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) has already shared MDS location data with private software companies and said, “Some form of the data will also be shared with other city agencies.” LADOT has not specified circumstances under which MDS data can and cannot be shared.


MDS will only ever be used to track bikes and scooter users


“When bikes and scooters showed up, they gave us a pretty interesting sandbox to start experimenting,” according to LADOT’s director. However, MDS is designed for cities to manage ride-hailing, commercial vehicles, and more. Already, Seattle is working to expand MDS to other modes of transportation. And LADOT has declared, “Whether a dockless or docked bike, an autonomous car or package delivery drone … LADOT will explicitly manage the movement of vehicles in the Los Angeles transportation product.”


Cities need to track individuals in real time to make planning decisions


The policy situations cited by LADOT when justifying collecting individual trip information could just as easily be addressed with aggregated data, making it harder to identity riders. LADOT says that aggregate data can’t be trusted, but there are simple technical solutions available to ensure that data has not been fabricated or adjusted.


MDS tracking only happens in Los Angeles


Many cities have implemented or begun developing MDS tracking programs, including Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Nashville, Portland, Providence, Santa Monica, Seattle, and Washington, DC. Los Angeles will play a key role in the fate of MDS tracking.