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Lime Turns E-Scooters Into Micromobility Surveillance Platforms
Under the guise of public safety, Lime’s E-scooters could soon be recording everyone and everything they see.
A recent article in TechCrunch revealed that Lime’s advanced rider assistance technology (ARAT) will be using a camera to detect when riders are on sidewalks.
“At a Lime event in Paris, the startup shared plans to pilot an in-house built computer vision platform that will leverage cameras to detect when users are riding on the sidewalk. While it will be at the discretion of the cities whether to both audibly alert the riders to their transgressions and actually slow them down, both functions are available.”
While the article does not discuss how Lime’s sidewalk detection cameras will work, one can assume that the news isn’t good.
For starters, it is hard to imagine the European Union allowing e-scooters recording people and cars in cities across the union. But none of that seems to matter to Lime.
In the U.S., Lime plans on installing ARAT e-scooters in six cities by mid-August.
“Lime will be piloting the tech on close to 400 scooters in San Francisco and Chicago starting early to mid-August. By the end of the year, Lime hopes to expand its pilot to six cities in total.”
According to Lime, their sidewalk detection program was designed under the guise of “safety of the communities.”
“We began developing sidewalk detection over a year ago as a commitment to the safety of the communities we quickly became a part of,” said Nick Shapiro, Lime’s Head of Trust and Safety. "We know that micromobility can only be successful if riders and communities feel safe, and at Lime, we’re dedicated to advancing safety for all."
But when it comes to the amount of data Lime collects on riders, the devil is in the details.
“For every ride in downtown San José, Lime will collect accelerometer and speed data. From this data, the vibration of the underlying riding surface (e.g. a road or a sidewalk) can be detected using a sophisticated statistical model (AI) that Lime designed. With this functionality, Lime is able to discern with up to 95% accuracy when a rider is riding on a sidewalk instead of the street.”
Lime uses a proprietary AI to collect vast amounts of information on every riders’ usage and has now added surveillance camera footage to boot.
The privacy implications of Lime’s ARAT e-scooters traveling down our streets and neighborhoods equipped with proprietary surveillance cameras is much more invasive than Ring surveillance cameras.
Why are Lime’s e-scooters more invasive than Ring doorbell cameras?
Because Lime’s e-scooters are constantly in motion, traveling down our city’s streets, recording who knows what.
Let’s say police used Lime’s GPS tracking to ID a rider’s proximity to a crime or alleged crime and they ask Lime to provide camera footage of all e-scooter(s) in the vicinity.
“We are excited to leverage the data we collect to better understand when and where people are riding on sidewalks. Once we have that data in hand, we can share it with the City of San José and work on potential infrastructure improvements, such as protected bike lanes, to make riders and pedestrians feel safe,” EV Ellington, Lime’s Northern California General Manager said.
Lime, like Ring, would probably just hand over their e-scooter footage to law enforcement without a warrant.
Ring says it also reserves the right to supply police with footage in “emergencies,” defined broadly as “cases involving imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to any person. Amazon declined to elaborate on how it defines these emergencies beyond “imminent danger of death or serious physical injury,” stating only that “Ring makes a good-faith determination whether the request meets the well-known standard.”
Police could forcibly slow down e-scooters to ID people of interest
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency warns that rental e-scooter companies are already using sidewalk riding technology to track riders in real-time and forcibly slow them down.
“Sidewalk riding detection technology enables the device to detect sidewalk riding in real time. Once detected, the scooter automatically slows the rider to a safer speed.”
It’s possible, in the not too distant future, law enforcement asks Lime to provide information on riders in a one-mile radius and forcibly slows down their e-scooters so they can better ID a vehicle(s), suspect(s) or a protester(s).
How will that affect the public’s privacy?
It is not hard to imagine how police will abuse camera-equipped e-scooters to ID people or vehicles they deem suspicious.
According to Engadget, Lime has also begun testing their new Citra e-motorcyle.
Lime plans to launch the new motorbike “at scale” in Long Beach, California. The company plans to start with “several hundred” and could ultimately hit 500 vehicles if ridership is strong, spokesperson Russell Murphy said.
What happens if Lime decides to equip their their e-scooters and e-motorcyles with facial recognition software in the future. What if they decide to equip them with license plate reader software to boost revenue?
According to Lime president Joe Krauss, “Citra is the latest example of our relentless pursuit of innovation, aimed at helping riders get around cities safely.”
It appears Lime’s “relentless pursuit of innovation” also includes putting surveillance cameras on ARAT e-scoooters in the name of public safety.
When a surveillance state like China bans Tesla’s cars over concerns their eight out-ward facing cameras could be used to monitor the public and government buildings, one has to ask how is Lime any different?
Unfortunately it isn’t hard to see how law enforcement can and will turn Lime’s sidewalk detection E-scooters into real-time micromobilty surveillance platforms.
Image credit: Lime
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