Tech:NYC Opposes New TLC Regulation that Threatens Consumer Privacy

Yesterday, the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) held a hearing on a recently proposed regulation that would seriously threaten consumer privacy. This regulation ostensibly targets driver fatigue by limiting the number of hours that a licensed for-hire vehicle driver can drive passengers in NYC. We support efforts to combat driver fatigue but have real concerns about the way TLC intends to enforce this regulation.

Specifically, under the proposed rule, black cars and other for-hire vehicles would have to submit to TLC pinpoint drop-off location for every ride they dispatch. As we testified in objection to the new regulation:

Coupled with the pinpoint pick-up data that TLC already collects, this information provides a complete picture of passenger trips and could jeopardize the privacy of individuals or particular groups. A recent review by an interested New Yorker used pick-up and drop-off data published by TLC to identify the most popular neighborhoods for for Goldman Sachs employees to live by depicting the volume of morning taxi travel from specific neighborhoods to the Goldman Sachs offices. A similar approach could be used to track all of the travel data for a person who resides at a particular address. Or it could be used to determine the origination points for all visitors to a specific site, such as an abortion clinic or a house of worship like a mosque or synagogue.

These privacy concerns are very real. But even worse, TLC makes no justification for needing this data to actually enforce rules about driver fatigue when it just needs to know how long any given ride takes. It can find that information by requiring for-hire vehicles to transmit just that information—trip duration—without geographic information that threatens the privacy of everyday New Yorkers.

We are also worried about the risk that the regulation poses for companies’ ability to protect their proprietary information. Of note, in addition to drop-off data, companies will also be required to identify every shared customer ride. As we said in our comments:

The formulas that allow companies to determine commonalities among customers’ desired trips are tantamount to trade secrets. Entrusting this data to a regulator arouses reasonable concerns especially...when the information is not necessary for the government action in question.

As currently written, this regulation threatens consumer privacy and makes it harder for companies to operate in New York, all for no discernible reason. TLC should either explain why it needs this data to combat driver fatigue or merely collect the minimal data it needs to do that.

You can read Tech:NYC’s full testimony here.