Privacy Getting Taken For A Ride

by Samantha Gallegos, Capitol Weekly

exec-greedy-money_is-resizedwidgetIt’s as if they can read your mind: Before customers even ask to be picked up, apps let Uber or Lyft know you’ll need them.

That’s because personal data housed in smart phones tell ride-sharing companies when and where their customers most frequently need rides.

It’s innovated the car-service industry, critics say, at the expense of users’ privacy.

“The stories range from tracking customers in real time and stalking reporters, to data breaches where hackers obtained account records of thousands of TNC (transportation network company) users and offered them for sale on dark websites visited by criminals,” Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, told the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee hearing this week for his bill, AB 886.

Sponsored by the Consumer Federation of California, a non-profit consumer-rights advocacy group, Chau’s bill would set up privacy standards related to “personally identifiable data” that TNCs — like Uber or Lyft — would be required to follow. Those standards don’t exist now, Chau said.

But Chau’s measure stalled in the committee on a four-to-six vote amid a fierce lobbying fight. Chau was given permission to bring the ball back to the committee for another vote, which could be as early as next week.

Supporters of AB 886 said they would be willing to reexamine the scope of the bill’s definition of “personally identifiable data” in order to move it forward.

“I guess you could say, well, protecting some personal data is better than protecting none,” said Richard Holober, executive director of the Consumer Federation. “Right now none is protected. And I don’t believe the flawed argument that Internet-based companies should have greater freedom than the other businesses who collect and share data.”

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