What MDS Means for You

Imagine your personal movements being tracked by the government. Every time you visit the doctor, have a date, or go to the gym, a government record would be created. Thanks to a new technology called Mobility Data Specification (MDS), this scenario is already happening today on bikes and scooters. Without proper checks, it could easily expand to all transportation.

MDS doesn’t collect personal details like names and addresses, but as the Los Angeles Times noted: “Someone with basic coding skills and access to the data could easily connect a trip to an individual person.” That means MDS can be used to identify and reveal sensitive location information about riders, including business meetings, personal appointments, political activities, and more.

For some people, exposing their location might be inconvenient or even embarrassing. But for vulnerable communities, like survivors of abuse and hate-motivated crimes, the risks are high. Riders could also face a surveillance dragnet as cities share MDS data with law enforcement.

Today, over twenty cities have started using or building MDS systems. Some have already said they will implement MDS-like technology to control all transportation modes from ride-sharing to package deliveries. It’s time for cities to put the brakes on this program and instead to adopt data collection policies that improve the transportation landscape while protecting rider privacy and safety.

MDS represents a monumental shift in the way local governments collect and use transportation data, and their ability to direct people’s personal movements.

How MDS Works

MDS is a new data language that allows cities and vehicles to communicate in real-time. It works through two applications, or Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). The first API, called Provider, sends details to cities about the starting point, ending point, and route of each trip. The second API, called Agency, requires real-time pushing of precise rider locations to cities.  It also enables cities to instantly send instructions back to vehicles. For example, it allows cities to reroute cars, prohibit access to certain neighborhoods, ration trips, and adjust pricing.

In 2018, Los Angeles began requiring mobility companies with city permits to share real-time status information about their dockless bikes and scooters using MDS. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) has made it clear that its next step is to expand into ride-sharing and commercial vehicles, and is urging other cities to do so.

LADOT has also promoted its technology and data collection methods as models for other cities. Many of them have now implemented or begun developing MDS tracking programs, including Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Nashville, Portland, Providence, Santa Monica, and Washington, DC.  Seattle has already explored expanding MDS to other modes of transportation.

Critical Concerns

Rider Surveillance

Data Sharing & Law Enforcement

Privacy & Safety

The Truth

Find out how city governments plan to use MDS, and the risks it poses to rider privacy and safety.