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 location data can easily reveal a rider’s identity, home, work, relationships, and more. 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.”


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


Rather than collecting real-time, individual-level location data, city officials could require mobility companies to provide aggregated trip data that is far safer, more useful for transportation planning, and easily audited to ensure its authenticity.


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.