Data privacy part of transportation technology, smart cities conversation at SXSW

During a March 12 panel on connecting transportation technology during the 2016nSouth by Southwest Conferences & Festivals, panelists discussed data privacy.

During a March 12 panel on connecting transportation technology during the 2016nSouth by Southwest Conferences & Festivals, panelists discussed data privacy.

Data privacy, a topic that ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft have discussed with Austin City Council, is a key part of the conversation surrounding integrating transportation options to create smart cities, said Andrew Salzberg, senior operations manager for Uber.

During a March 12 panel on connecting transportation technology during the South by Southwest Conferences & Festivals, Salzberg said the definition of a smart city varies in the industry.

“For us it’s clever uses of the available resources. For us that’s cars on the road,” he said. “How this plays out and what we’re hoping to do is to come to a place where every car on the road is shared.”

He said Uber is looking at all ways of getting people to share their vehicles, especially given that 80 percent of U.S. workers commute alone in their vehicles.

Uber also has a software platform available for developers to integrate Uber’s services into other apps. Salzberg said Uber has more constraints on digitizing data and making it usable because of the privacy issues with data. He said part of Uber’s value is riders trusting the company’s data and security.

“What we’re always looking for is ‘What are the ways the data we produce can be extremely valuable to cities that doesn’t violate the privacy constraints that we have?’” he said. “… It’s the next frontier for us.”

Uber and Lyft have both been involved with changes to the city’s ordinance regulating transportation network companies, also known as ride-hailing companies. City Council discussed the changes for months and approved them Dec. 18. Among those changes was a requirement for the TNCs to submit data to the city as well as fingerprinting TNC drivers as part of the background check.

A group of citizens petitioned council to adopt “common-sense ride-sharing rules,” but council chose not to adopt those rules and instead voted to call an election May 7 to allow voters to decide on the issue.

Iain Macbeth, business change program manager of roads for Transport for London, said TfL has an open-data policy, similar to Capital Metro’s open-data tool in Austin, for developers to use.

He said people are not usually comfortable with being tracked but often do not realize the terms and conditions they accept with software upgrades.

“Behavior change is one of the of key things about data privacy going forward in how we actually engage consumers about what is good and what’s not so great,” he said.

The city of Austin is also engaging in other smart city discussions. It is one of 78 U.S. cities that applied for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. Cities are asked to create innovative ideas on addressing challenges such as traffic and increasing population.

Five finalists will be announced March 13 at the Beyond Traffic: The Emergence of a Connected City panel.
By Amy Denney

Managing Editor, Austin metro

Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and later senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition as well as covering transportation in the Austin metro. She is now managing editor for the 10 publications in the Central Texas area from Georgetown to New Braunfels.


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