Uber Promises To Share Trip Data With Cities While Guarding Customer Privacy

On the one hand, the more information about how its traffic works a city can get, the more material it has to improve parking, or transit in that area. But on the other, customers who use ride-sharing services like Uber might balk at the idea of information about their trips being shared outside the company. Uber is pledging now to both share data about rides with U.S. cities as well as safeguard customers’ privacy.

Over thousands of trips netting data about where a car picks someone up at what time, where it’s headed and how long it took to arrive, you can learn a lot about the way a city moves. That information is valuable to cities, and Uber can provide it.

The Washington Post reports that in somewhat of a reversal of its stance to hold such data close, it’s announcing plans today to share some of its data with local governments, starting first with Boston.

Uber will share anonymized trip-level data with Boston every quarter, including valuable nuggets like date, time and distance traveled, as well as origin and destination locations. But those locations will only be identified by zip code, keep specific addresses out of it to preserve privacy.

It won’t just be cities who will have access to this data, as it’ll be open to records requests for both researchers’ and the public’s access. This way, cities can keep tabs on Uber and the neighborhoods it serves most, while also gaining insight into how the cities themselves work. The company is still going to keep its pricing data close, however.

“The data we’re going to provide will help cities manage growth, relieve traffic congestion, expand public transit, fill potholes,” Justin Kintz, Uber’s head of policy for North America told the Post.

He says personally identifiable information will be stripped from all trips to protect consumers, only releasing the same kind of data that the Census Bureau does, for example.

This move comes a few months after a controversy wherein a top executive reportedly suggested that Uber had the power to poke around in the private lives of journalists. The question of how tightly Uber was controlling access to customer data by its employees has been raised, making this effort an attempt, perhaps to reassure the public that it can help others use the data for the public good.

“We want what’s best for cities,” Kintz says. “The more cities can invest in themselves, invest in improving ways people can get around the city safely, conveniently, affordably, then Uber’s going to benefit, too, over the long haul.”

Uber offers cities an olive branch: your valuable trip data [The Washington Post]