Scooter app wars begin, and Lime isn't happy about it

Lime petitions Apple to yank Scooter Map from its App Store over alleged privacy violations.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
4 min read

Freshly charged Lime and Bird scooters.

Dara Kerr/CNET

A small battle is brewing in the scooter world. It involves an app called Scooter Map, which its developer said was created to help people find scooters from all companies grouped together in one app. Problem is, one of the world's largest rental scooter companies doesn't like it.

Lime sent Victor Pontis, Scooter Map's developer, a cease-and-desist letter last April. Pontis said he's since fulfilled Lime's requests, but the scooter company kept raising other issues. By December, Lime had reached out to Apple's App Store and requested Scooter Map be taken down because of trademark and privacy violations.

"They've been escalating via going to Apple," Pontis said. "I don't think this is something people in the community want or the chargers want. Scooter Map isn't really hurting Lime." (Chargers are people who collect scooters when their batteries are low and recharge them.)

Lime would beg to differ. A company spokeswoman said Scooter Map "phishes" for users account information and pings Lime's servers "sometimes over a thousand times in a single hour, placing a huge load on our system and making our data server less accurate for users."

Big tech companies going after boutique apps that make use of their data is nothing new. Uber , Amazon and Facebook are known for pursuing small app developers over such alleged violations. In August, Facebook sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Who's in Town app over alleged location-tracking of Instagram users. In 2018, WhatsApp sent similar letters to developers allegedly using its API.

Lime is one of the biggest rental scooter companies in the world, with vehicles in more than 100 cities and $765 million in venture capital funding. Its next biggest competitor in the US is Bird, which has raised $548 million. Other major companies and notable individuals have also gotten into the scooter craze, including Uber, Lyft and Olympic gold medal sprinter Usain Bolt.

Pontis originally created Scooter Map in August 2018 for chargers. Many scooter companies pay gig workers a small amount of money to collect and charge scooters with dead or low batteries. Once the vehicles are ready to go, then "juicers," as Lime calls them, redistribute the scooters back onto city streets.

Within the Lime app, juicers can see all Lime scooters that need charging. But in Scooter Map, they can see all companies' scooters that need power. Many chargers say this is helpful for them to get more scooters and make money more efficiently.

"It was great to see what was nearby and help you earn more as a charger," said Harry Campbell, who runs a popular gig worker blog called the Rideshare Guy. "I also found that Scooter Map had a lot more functionality than the native charging apps. For example, it would allow me to filter the scooters by how recently they were ridden, which gave me a good indication if they would be in the right location."

The app was so successful for chargers that Pontis launched a rider mode of the app in April 2019. The app has now amassed more than 100,000 users, with tens of thousands of riders and chargers using it per week, Pontis said. More than 30 scooter companies have been included in the rider mode of the app and nearly 10 companies were added to the charger mode.

Shortly after Scooter Map debuted its rider mode, Lime sent the first of three cease-and-desist letters to Pontis. The problem was that riders could unlock Lime and Bird scooters from within Scooter Map. Bird also reached out to Pontis and asked him to take down the unlocking feature. He complied by rerouting riders to the scooter companies' native apps.

For riders, Pontis said Scooter Map doesn't request data beyond what users see on the map. For chargers, however, Scooter Map stores some data. For example, chargers can connect their Lime and Bird accounts to the app to track their payments over time. They can also have their location tracked so that they get a push notification when there are nearby scooters.   

"Lime also knew about this along the way," Pontis said. "Scooter Map wasn't running in secret."

Pontis said that Lime scooters are no longer available in the charger mode of the app because of technical issues reportedly caused by Lime.

Pontis said most scooter companies like being included in Scooter Map because it brings them more exposure and directs riders to their apps. But Lime said it only wants to be included in such apps through partnerships, like those it has with Uber and Google Maps.

"While Lime currently partners with other approved parties to make our scooters easily accessible, Scooter Map's approach negatively impacts the rider experience and trust we've built with our users," the Lime spokeswoman said. "We have asked them to stop scraping our API in violation of the law and our terms of service."

Pontis maintains that his app is only to help riders and chargers. He wrote a blog post detailing his experience with Lime and created a petition last Thursday for people to sign in support of Scooter Map. So far, more than 1,000 people have signed the petition.

"What I'm doing is looking at data and sharing that data," Pontis said. "At no point am I claiming I am Lime. I'm saying, 'Here are scooters on public streets.'"

It's unclear if Apple will yank the app from its store. In the meantime, according to documents seen by CNET, Apple is asking Lime and Scooter Map to work the issue out between themselves.

Uber declined to comment. Apple, Lyft and scooter companies Bird, Spin and Skip didn't return requests for comment.

Correction, Jan. 27 at 4:06 p.m.: An earlier version of the story stated Scooter Map's charger mode was down, but it is only down for Lime scooters.

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