Bird Scooters Knows Your Location—Even When You’re Not Riding One

Graphic courtesy of Aditya Tiwari.

Neeraj Venkatesh K.R./Contributing Writer

After you get off your Bird electric scooter, it still knows where you live, where your favorite restaurant is and how much time you spend there. It’s been watching you right under your nose.

Since they’ve been on campus, everybody from professors to students rides the scooters to go around campus at a breakneck pace.

Birds have caused some issues already on campus such as visible damage to dorm buildings. One thing that Birds have been doing that’s a lot less visible is collecting personal data on user locations. 

Bird breaks down the data collected in their privacy policy into two parts: the information they provide and information that they automatically collect. The first part contains the user’s name, address, and payment information, which is the basic information that companies tend to collect.

The part that might concern some users is when they collect the browser information, length of time you used the browser and even your home IP address. 

“We automatically collect and store location information from your device and from any Vehicles you use,” states the Bird privacy policy, last updated this January. 

Bird uses IP addresses, Bluetooth and GPS to exactly verify your location and store it for purposes that are vaguely mentioned as “user preferences” or “other information”.

When asked about their use to an FIU computer science grad student Manas Mhapuskar, he said that he uses them regularly since a major amount of his time is spent on the engineering campus, they are cheap and very easy to use. 

“No amount of convenience should cost me my personal data and location history,” said Mhapuskar after learning of the data collection from Bird.

Kemal Akkaya, a computer science professor whose research focuses on cybersecurity and privacy, said there’s a big difference between real-life privacy and online privacy in terms of control.

“People would not know what your life habits and patterns are, or how you behave at home, what you do at home… However with online space, these things could become easily public,” said Akkaya in an email to PantherNOW.

In online life, Akkaya said people are exposing an enormous amount of detailed data about themselves and completely destroying privacy.

The agreements people sign before using an app or service include “vague language” according to Akkaya. 

Although they may not share all the data, some may be shared with other third parties. As a Bird scooter user himself, he said he is aware of the location and data collection, but to better tackle it, he suggests turning off the location from “Always” to “only while using.” Even then, he said, it’s not enough to protect all of your information.

Akkaya said there’s no clean solution to protecting all your data, but one idea might be for governments to step in and create new privacy laws. 

“The European Union adopted a new law called General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to enforce companies to employ very strict privacy principles and inform the users about the use, sharing and storing of their data”.

More locally, a new bill was proposed in Florida that may force companies to be more forthcoming with what data they take. 

The bill, if enacted, will require companies to tell consumers exactly what data they’re collecting when asked, and even prohibit them from selling that data at the request of the consumer. 

Or, if you want to avoid these problems altogether, getting your own electric scooter would run you around $350.

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