A data company is coaching cities on how to get GPS data from scooters

The guide for city governments, originally posted as an unlisted Medium article, provides specific details, like what format the data should come in.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
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Cities across the country are demanding location data from thousands of scooters . They aren't doing it alone.

Remix , a data analysis company, has been sharing with government officials a 2,000-plus-word guide on how to negotiate these data requests to scooter companies. The guide includes specific details on what format location data should be in and how cities can avoid Freedom of Information requests.

The document, posted on Medium in March, includes a section advising cities to incorporate language in licenses for scooter companies that allows municipalities to use "any third-party software or service" to analyze data the vehicles generate. Such language would ensure that third parties, such as Remix, can access the data directly.

The playbook, called A Practical City Guide to Mobility Data Licensing, was published as an unlisted article, meaning it could be seen only if the reader had the link. Remix made the post public after CNET reached out to the company.

A disclaimer at the bottom reads, "This document is intended to aid cities in their consideration of the issues surrounding data licensing." The guide was last updated on Monday.

"Remix builds tools for cities to strengthen our communities with smarter transportation infrastructure and more efficient public transit," said Tiffany Chu, Remix's co-founder. "We work with hundreds of cities around the world to share best practices and help them navigate new mobility."

Local governments can often be overwhelmed when it comes to dealing with tech giants. That's why cities like New York and London found themselves playing catch-up with services like Airbnb and Uber.

Now cities are trying to get ahead of scooter services before they run rampant too, asking for location data to analyze traffic patterns and ensure they're obeying laws. But critics, including the Center for Democracy and Technology, have raised concerns, arguing that the data requests are too broad and create privacy issues.

Remix's guide was intended to help cities navigate data contracts with tech companies, but it recommends many of the practices privacy advocates are criticizing.

The guide suggests city permit contracts allow for the broad use of data, including raw data that contains precise GPS locations.

"Because uses for mobility data are still emerging, maximizing data rights upfront allows for future flexibility and reduces the risk of needing to renegotiate a license agreement," the guide said.

In one section, Remix tells cities the contracts should allow them to access this data for as long as possible, recommending that data-use rights should be maintained for at least three years after a scooter company stops operating in the city.

In its recommendations, the company told cities they should avoid requiring third parties to sign their own license agreements with data providers.

Remix does ask for cities to be transparent about what data they're collecting and how it'll be used.

"In the absence of a clear statement of intent and a demonstration of a serious approach to privacy, it is easy for constituents to become concerned about a city's use of mobility data," the guide said.

Remix works with more than 300 city governments around the world, including that of Los Angeles, where a debate over privacy and public safety surrounding scooter location data has flared up.

Several scooter companies have expressed concern about providing Remix and the LA Department of Transportation (LADOT) with sensitive location data, citing issues with how the data can be used and how it's managed by third parties.

LADOT has argued that the city needs this information for public safety and to ensure that streets aren't overrun with scooters.
"LADOT appreciates Remix's 'City First' approach. We look forward to their continued contributions," a spokesperson for the LADOT said. "Information about vehicles helps cities manage for-profit vehicles operating on the public right of way."

Scooter companies that don't provide this data will be allowed to operate only 3,000 scooters in Los Angeles. Those that are in compliance can have fleets as large as 10,500 scooters. LADOT also gave complying companies a full year's permit, while companies that haven't complied get 30-day permits.

The guide cautions cities to avoid provoking privacy concerns, urging city governments to steer clear of issues in its permit contracts that would raise red flags. That includes avoiding requests for personally identifiable information, having a clear privacy policy and demands for precise GPS data.

Remix doesn't work with the scooter companies, but it does help LADOT collect data, analyze it and present it in a way that's easier for city officials to interpret.

Remix hosts the data on its own cloud servers and has said it would destroy any copies of this sensitive data it has once its agreement with LA expires.

Remix's writing also shows that it's aware of how anonymized location data can still be used to track people down. Even if there isn't personal information tagged to location points, you could still identify who a rider is by tracing specific locations, such as a person's home address or workplace.

The recommendations don't apply only to scooter companies, as LADOT hopes to collect location data through its BlueLA car share program as well, an electric vehicle car sharing service in LA.
Originally published March 28, 3:45 p.m. PT.
Update, 4:07 p.m.: Adds a statement from Remix.

Correction, March 28 at 4:30 p.m.: Clarifies LADOT hopes to collect location data through its own car sharing program, different to app-enabled services like Uber and Lyft.