A new group called Communities Against Rider Surveillance (CARS) has formed to raise awareness of Mobility Data Specification (MDS), a dangerous technology that makes it easy for local governments to track people’s personal movements through cities. The CARS coalition is comprised of privacy and civil liberties advocates, as well as transportation innovators who are asking cities to reject MDS tracking programs and instead adopt data collection policies that protect rider privacy and safety.

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 MDS, this scenario could soon become a reality. It’s not surprising that city planners have cut the public entirely out of the MDS conversation, but we hope that CARS will finally give them a voice.

 MDS was created in 2018 by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) to track and direct the movement of individual vehicles, ranging from dockless scooters and bikes to ride-hailing, commercial vehicles, autonomous cars, and drones.  Today, it is increasingly being used by cities across the country. Using MDS, vehicles are required to transmit their precise location to cities, and cities can send instructions back to drivers – rerouting cars, limiting street access and even imposing fines.  MDS does not collect the names of riders, but the Los Angeles Times has said, “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.

And while cities across the country are fighting relentless hacking attempts and internal abuses of confidential data, most have failed to specify their policies and practices for handling MDS location data, let alone adopted clear privacy safeguards before implementing these tracking programs. 

Business Travel Coalition chairman Kevin Mitchell also raised concerns stating, “Business travelers are increasingly concerned that MDS programs will lead to the harmful use of sensitive personal and highly confidential commercial information. These ill-vetted programs could even lead to leaked or sold merger and acquisition information, and we intend to protect the business travel community against that threat.” 

In addition to the Business Travel Coalition, other CARS members include Mi Familia Vota, a national civic engagement group dedicated to the interests of Latino and immigrant communities, as well as Patient Privacy Rights, a leading advocate for patients’ rights to control their personal health information, and Uber Technologies, a leading mobility and logistics platform offering ridesharing, electric bike- and scooter-sharing, and food delivery services in hundreds of cities worldwide.

The CARS coalition will work to provide the facts and set the record straight about MDS tracking programs.