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As L.A. plays tech disruptor, Uber fights back (citylab.com)
55 points by rmason 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments

> L.A. requires operators to send start and stop locations of individual vehicle trips back to City Hall, within five seconds, in addition to the routes they traveled within 24 hours

Wow, this is dystopian. I support Uber fighting back on this. It's an egregious privacy violation by the city. I trust Uber with the data a lot more than the city. Let's say you take a scooter to an area where a crime happened and suddenly you're being interviewed as a suspect. No thanks.

This is true to a certain extent but nowhere in the specification does it state that providers are required to send customer information. Each trip is associated with a foreign UUID which is linked back to the provider (scooter company). If LEO use this data for that purpose, then they would still need a warrant for that information.


To say that a person is “suddenly” being interviewed as a suspect just for traveling in a certain area is somewhat alarmist.

Also this is Uber we are talking about. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are using the privacy concerns as a pretext to protect their own private data mining efforts.

It's more that they don't want to be regulated.

Is there any indication it contains identifying information? Send the start and end location fuzzed by a few hundred metres and the time and it would be very difficult to deanonymize within an urban environment.

A similar release of "anonymized" NYC taxi data from 2013 shows that trip information can be pretty revealing.


That wasn't anonymized, strictly speaking, it was (badly) hashed/encrypted, and it didn't actually reveal anything, it was pairing the data with photographs of the celebrities (and photos that included the cab license number).

And after all, out of 173 million rides some 5 (five) were "identified".

Fuzzing the locations might be useful if it's allowed but if they have to send the data within 5 seconds fuzzing the time won't do much. It's probably also not that hard to correlate the fuzzed start/end points and the full route which would be harder to fuzz effectively.

As always, your adversary isn't subject to your rules, man. I can defuzz that easily with the time granularity required by the report combined with other information sources - none of which individually break the privacy budget but all of which together can.

Yeah, agreed on time granularity. Without that I think it’d be fine.

As a user of LADOT I think they are failing to do the basics, so I doubt they would put that data to good use.

The DASH routes are fairly short, should be pretty easy to manage it so it is reliable and frequent, but they are far from it. They have a web app showing the locations of all buses (a pretty ugly and inefficient UI btw) and I often see all buses very close to each other, often 4 of them (out of 5 or 6 in the whole line) in just two blocks.

This means that one day I can wait 5 minutes, but others I have waited 30 or even 40 minutes. This is by pure incompetence. I complained several times through the site, never got a response.


it's harder than it seems, pure incompetence seems a little unfair.

I come from São Paulo, a bigger, poorer, and more chaotic city than LA. The bus system there was much more reliable than in LA. And I am talking here about 5 or 6 buses at any given time on a circular route that's probably less than 5 miles total.

Of course, I am reliving my frustration on these times that I have to wait more time at a bus stop than I spend inside the bus, so it is a harsh critique. But I do think it's fair and justified.

Being deeply involved in LA politics the notion of city being proactive about anything came as a shock. After reading the article its Clear: “In particular, critics have pointed to the city’s alliance with a secretive venture capital-backed start-up that is building its business on helping cities gather reams of vehicle data. A CityLab probe of that start-up, Lacuna, reveals that it played a significant role in MDS, even though the city devised the project in part to be a check on the power of such technology companies.”

It's a real shame that cities didn't do this aggressively as a condition of licensing the TNCs; they could've demanded detailed speed and location data, could've put systems in place to reliably and consistently fine the TNCs every time a driver went over the speed limit or stopped in a bike lane. Wasted opportunity.

This suggests an interesting tactic to build public support for mass surveillance. Don't do it it secret, but also don't talk about monitoring individual behavior. Instead, make it about regulating the service provider.

"We need all your GMail so we can fine Google for failed deliveries and spam" is a much better story than "We need all your GMail to make sure you're not a terrorist" but of course the effect is the same.

They are already heavily using it. See the telecom retroactive immunities, the lawful intercept requirements, and their persistent attempts to draft corporations to break Cryptography. Despite the US being the biggest beneficiary of Cryptography. They are all lazy stupid bastards.

Mass surveillance is here already. This is about regulation and eventually consumption tax for cars.

Oh, I made a similar comment. I absolutely agree. I think this is a sound strategy and the outcome is pretty desirable. It will make us safer and more peaceful at the risk of being exploitable by governments.

Fortunately, many people who advocate for privacy are also big on regulation and standards, so your backdoor may sell well in that demographic.

Well, let's be honest: there's no reason to limit that to TNCs. If you speed you're just as bad as a TNC driver speeding and you occupy just as much room in a bike lane as a TNC driver.

The only real solution is complete surveillance. And I think we will have it in my lifetime. It should be pretty easy to convince people of it.

- "It will fight crime"

- "It's to ensure that cars won't occupy bike lanes"

- "We want to ensure that big corporations do not violate the law"

- "The government is doing this to protect you, while the corporations are doing it to exploit you. At least we're helping"

- "At LADOT, our job is to move people and goods as quickly and safely as possible, but we can only do that if we have a complete picture of what’s on our streets and where"

"Complete surveillance" isn't necessary to implement technical measures such as speed limiters, as Europe is introducing in the next few years.


I think with the sufficient motivation I could create a desire to force surveillance in. It isn't about technology. It's about people. Our views are like water. You create the right channels and you can create a rushing torrent in one direction. Do something else and you have a placid lake.

For instance, I could mention the idea that people can hack their systems and then you get:


> This doesn't address the fundamental issue: a car is being controlled by an untested and unregulated system on public roads.


> Does this imply they're encouraging anyone to write buggy code and drive their cars with it?!?

It's easy. You just make it about the guys who could be running 'untested', 'unregulated' code on their cars so you need a hardware security module that reports on the car constantly and then you track them by their 5G tower.

Admittedly if we quickly get non-tracking-based solutions out there it immunizes us to these fears.

Why should government have access to data they didn't produce by coercion? They should pay for it if they want it and they shouldn't be allowed to compel a business to sell data they created.

Self-driving cars can be made to automatically follow the law. In theory, they should also be able to go much faster than human drivers with fewer accidents. I’m with you on complete surveillance. It is bad idea.

Fascinating. Government and corporations fighting over our private trip data; no one has thought to consult the little people.

That's why we elect representatives. Vote them out if you don't like what they do. Also, your more than welcome to let them know how you feel:


What makes you think I haven't? And one can see how well it’s worked.

I still don't understand LA's case for needing the data. How does it intend to use it?

"At LADOT, our job is to move people and goods as quickly and safely as possible, but we can only do that if we have a complete picture of what’s on our streets and where"

"we need this data to move people and goods more quickly and safely" doesn't really seem like an answer to grandparent's question- what are they actually going to do with the data?

This is a bit like asking an electrical engineer what they would use a voltmeter for. For measuring voltages. Not a good answer? Well, uhm, do you have some time to spare?

> Well, uhm, do you have some time to spare?

Will they answer if we do?

Their case is essentially that they are lazy assholes with no respect for privacy so spare them from doing their job and doing their own representative traffic pattern modeling. Just like the demand for backdoors to spare the police the burden of investigating.

Right, they could easily install their own traffic sensors and license plate readers but that would cost so instead they demand the data from the companies. I'm not a big fan on how Uber bypasses laws but LA could also get this data from the cell carriers. That would give them a great view of how and when they need to move every single person in LA around at every single second.

This is currently about scooters so no license plates and you don't have to be a city bureaucrat to be concerned about scooters and where they are.

Is the right direction though? I think it's basically false to imply any organization should need this microdata for any reason.

We need some trend data, surely, and some good regulation as well. But we don't need to monitor and regulate every little microtransaction. This is ultra 'make work'.

Rather than requiring users to give them information, the city might improve things by providing real-time information about its traffic. This would enable individual users to make their own decisions as to where and when to travel possibly with help from third-party companies who specialize in providing advice. Google, Apple, and the wireless companies may already have a good-enough version of traffic data because they can track people via their phones.

There is no need for the government, the organization that fixes the roads, provides the police, administers a court system, etc, to also be in charge of traffic management. It can be handled through the market.

> This suggests an interesting tactic to build public support for mass surveillance.

I'm not entirely convinced that mass surveillance by government is worse than mass surveillance by huge private corporations. In democratic societies at least, the public has at least some control over the government. It has virtually none over private entities.

Democratic societies are democratic until they're not. And the systems put in place when they're democratic don't suddenly disappear alongside democracy.

The Weimar Republic was democratic.

The government has a much bigger control of your life than a corporation.

The government also has a monopoly on violence. Google doesn't.


Is that an argument leaning pro government surveillanc or against it?

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22431580.

Of course both is so much worse than no surveillance.

But otherwise history would suggest government surveillance to be much, much worse.

> In democratic societies at least, the public has at least some control over the government.

Indeed. That’s why the CIA was disbanded after the Snowden revelations, he was hailed as a hero and how he became Governor of DC.

Have you considered the public may have some control, they just don't want to use it as you'd like them to?

If they don't even consider it when it is harming them because of its emotional impact do they really have control or is it controlling them?

I mean a heroin addict technically has control but it would be delusional to claim the heroin has no power over them and they could easily quit any time they liked.

Is it harming them? I mean, I'm opposed to widespread spying on principle, but I couldn't point to an actual harm the americans have suffered due to it yet.

That has been the general prevailing wisdom of the idiots and psychopaths in robes but if you strip away the brainwashing commonly referred to as "norms" it becomes clear that is a moronic double standard that I wonder how the hell it has gone so collectively unchallenged.

If you were to personally spy on the entirety of the CIA and keep the data within your basement you would make history and record books with the harm your grand act of treason did or would cause. Hell if you did it to one neighborhood let alone one town you would be widely regarded as a terrifying criminal!

The fact they are government and not one deranged citizen only makes matters far worse not better. They have no legitimacy.

The fact so few see the goddamned obvious because they are so brainwashed is deeply disturbingm

> In democratic societies

If the US doesn’t qualify as a democracy either there aren’t any or the only one is Switzerland.

2 entrenched parties, first past the post, gerrymandering, etc... idk there's plenty between the US and Switzerland

The US system is not exactly perfect but two entrenched parties that actually alternate in power regularly and have very different policies is vast different from a one party state. Japan is a democracy even though the LDP has been in power almost continuously since WWII. The threat of being replaced is enough to make politicians responsive to constituents even if it very rarely actually happens. San Francisco has been governed by Democrats continuously for more than a hundred years. It’s not a one party state. Even the two entrenched parties thing overstates the stability of the US power structure. A European party system with members who choose their candidates is different from the US primary system where anyone can run and unseat an incumbent do has the backing of the party grandees. The Republican Party did not want Trump. The voters chose him. The Democratic Party does not want Sanders. He’s still going to be the Democratic nominee for President. The Tea Party for the Republicans or DSA for the Democrats are instances of the same phenomena. That’s just not possible in a European party system.

Well the CIA+Germans had infiltrated a swiss crypto ag company for years, as seen in a recent submission.

Which they used to spy to all governments who hired such company, while also getting paid for their encryption services lol

If a private corporation erroneously thinks you're a bad guy the results are a lot less bad than when an entity that can legally use violence to enforce its policy makes the same mistake.

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