Uber is to publish trip data to help city authorities get more insight into road congestion. It’s an attempt to navigate the tricky balance between privacy and usefulness.
The data will appear on a new site dubbed Movement that will initially be accessible only by city authorities and researchers but will “soon” be publicly available.
Users of the site won’t be able to track individual rides. Instead the data will be anonymized and aggregated. Rather than show specific start and end points, the rides will categorize locations based on the geographic zones used by transportation planners in the relevant area.
The idea is that the data will make it easier to see how journey times in particular places vary with traffic based on the time of day, week and even year, along with the effects of major events. One drawback may be that the fact people have chosen to use an Uber ride may make their journey unrepresentative: for example, heavy traffic might mean fewer passing cabs to hail, in turn pushing people towards using an app.
Uber has previously had problems at both ends of the data privacy scale. At one stage it built an application for internal use that tracked every journey in real time, something it scrapped over privacy fears. But it’s also cited privacy concerns itself in refusing a New York City request for data on driver locations and dropoff times, which officials say they need to check whether drivers are working excessive hours.