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Re: [betaNYC] A Day in the Life of a New York City Taxi

From: Richard R.
Sent on: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 8:23 AM
Great discussion. 

One question (and I'm not sure of the right answer).... Should cab drivers have an expectation of privacy? They are operating quasi-public vehicles that require a public license. Might we compare them to airline pilots, who are also operating private vehicles but who are subject to government licenses and whose every move is recorded and tracked?

Flip argument is that some passenger trips could also be tracked. Imagine if a stalker / jealous boyfriend (or a reporter) wants to see where a woman went after she got in a cab? If the stalker got the cab # and location of where she got in the cab, he could find the end point of the ride. (Even without the cab #, rides from remote pickup spots could still be tracked just with pickup location / time.)

Richard Robbins

On Jul 15, 2014, at 10:25 PM, Chris Whong <[address removed]> wrote:


Sorry for late response, was AFK most of the evening.  Describing the de-anonymization of these taxi trips as a "Privacy Fiasco" is nothing short of hyperbole, and makes for sensational news pieces and slippery slope "what-ifs" in the comments section.  As Jacob and Andrew have pointed out, the real issue is whether it should have been anonymized in the first place, not that it was de-anonymized.  I suspect that the reporters wouldn't have given a damn if there wasn't any techy talk of MD5 algorithms and lookup tables.

Most open data-minded people I've spoken with over the past few weeks consider this a critical lesson about anonymization on a public dataset where the consequences of deanonymization are negligible, and I am inclined to agree.  Better hack licenses and driver names, which are already public and downloadable in plain text, than social security numbers.  

To put it another way, would I be violating the driver's privacy if I tweeted all of the details of my taxi trip as it happened, including the driver's name, photo and license number?  Does my right to know who he/she is only apply to me as a passenger, right then and there during my ride, or does everyone have a right to know, all the time?  The data are just this information times 173 million with a 6-month delay, collected using our tax dollars, and extremely useful for studying the transportation ecosystem AND the effectiveness of the current regulatory setup.   


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