Uber seeks to shield ‘UberPool’ secrets in new CA regulations

(S.F. Examiner file photo)

As California weighs the legality of carpooling with Uber, the company wants data about the app out of the public eye — and hidden from its competitors.

In legal arguments to California regulators filed in May, but only made public this week, ride-hail company Uber requested algorithms unique to its service UberPOOL be placed under seal.

Right now, the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates Uber and Lyft, is weighing the legality of ride-pooling services like UberPOOL and Lyft Line.

As part of its research, the CPUC required Uber to submit data on the code and calculations behind the pooling-function of its app.

UberPOOL is a function of Uber which allows multiple fare-paying passengers to hop in the same car and share the cost of the ride. The algorithms of UberPOOL calculate where its thousands of users are leaving and arriving.

When users are both leaving and arriving at similar locations, the algorithm pairs them together and determines a shared cost.

To read Uber’s recent CPUC filing, click here.

Those calculations are the secret sauce Uber wants to protect from competitors, but in the process, it may hide information during a traditionally public process.

Attorneys for Uber’s subsidiary, Rasier, argued in its filings, “The report contains confidential and proprietary information that could reveal Rasier-CA’s internal methods and processes.”

Uber sent two versions of its report on UberPOOL to the CPUC: One with sensitive information blacked out for public consumption, and another with data meant only for the eyes of the CPUC.

“It’s not surprising to me that the TNCs would request such an agreement,” said Susan Shaheen, a researcher and co-director at UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center who’s considered a ride-hail and ride-sourcing expert.

Keeping the data private is not just about competitors, Shaheen said. “Don’t underestimate that the protection of private individual’s data and travel-related patterns can be revealed when data is examined at the microscopic level.”

Uber keeps the data on protected computer servers, the attorneys wrote, and only “specific individuals” at Uber have knowledge of the algorithm. Those employees enter contractual agreements to not disclose the information.

The attorneys also wrote UberPOOL is “very recent,” which makes it “especially valuable” to its competitors.

CPUC Administrative Law Judge Robert Mason has not made a ruling yet, CPUC spokesperson Christopher Chow confirmed.

California Public Utilities CommissionCPUCLyft LineTransitUberuberPOOL

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