Two California cities are taking their war on privacy and private businesses who don’t engage in cronyism to the next level. The first is in San Francisco where the treasurer told Uber and Lyft drivers they had to get a business license to be able to operate in city limits. From San Francisco Chronicle (emphasis mine):
The move ups the political tension between the city and Uber and Lyft. When faced with class-action lawsuits from drivers seeking status as employees, the companies have vigorously maintained that the drivers are independent contractors. [City Treasurer Jose] Cisneros is in essence turning that argument back on them and saying: If that’s the case, the drivers have to register as independent contractors for a business license.
Another reason the treasurer is taking action now may be that he finally has the names of the drivers. Uber and Lyft have long refused to provide drivers’ names and addresses to the city. Cisneros would not say how he obtained them.
That last paragraph sends chills down my spine because it shows how the government just wants private information so it can charge people money. It would be interesting if the city got the information illegally, or if the city is just trying to get the information by sending out notices to some people they know are drivers. SF Chronicle reports Uber has pretty much thrown in the town on this, but Lyft isn’t:
“Uber partners with entrepreneurial drivers and as independent contractors, they are responsible for following appropriate local requirements,” Uber spokeswoman Laura Zapata wrote in an email.
Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson said the company is opposed to the plan.
“We have serious concerns with the city’s plan to collect and display Lyft drivers’ personal information in a publicly available database,” she said in an email. “People in San Francisco, who are choosing to drive with Lyft to help make ends meet, shouldn’t have to compromise their privacy in order to share a ride.”
Uber’s comment may be because of the lawsuit brought on by some drivers in San Francisco, which goes to trial in June. If they decide to fight the city, then that can be used against them at trial in the lawsuit. If they don’t fight San Francisco, then it’s less ammo for those wanting to get tips and reimbursement. Uber is in a spot, and know they’re in a spot, so they’re doing what they believe is best for business. Lyft’s statement is much stronger and shows how they actually want to protect their drivers from being targeted by thieves and the government. It might hurt them in litigation, but kudos to Lyft for wanting to keep their drivers’ information private.
A similar fight is being done in Los Angeles, where the government is trying to get access to Airbnb and other short term rental sites list of properties. From Los Angeles Times:
The plan would empower Los Angeles to fine the online platforms—and the hosts —if they advertised rentals that defied restrictions on where and how often rooms or entire homes could be used for short stays.
The websites also could be fined if they failed to hand over addresses and other information to the city. Airbnb and other companies have been reluctant to share data, including how long travelers had stayed and the price they paid, arguing that doing so would trample on hosts’ privacy rights…
The law would allow short-term rentals in Los Angeles but impose several restrictions:
People would be able to rent out only their primary residence, defined as the place they live at least six months out of the year. Hosts could rent out only that home, or a room within it, for up to 90 days annually.
The key quote in this fight is by Councilman Mike Bonin who says, “We’re not asking for a ton of deep, personal private information. What units are being rented? How often?” But what he’s failing to remember is how thieves can look up a name and address, then use that information to steal someone’s identity. All they’d have to do is hack into Los Angeles’ database to get the information, and go from there. The government would also know who was doing what, and could start demanding even more from Airbnb and their users, by bursting into their homes to do surprise inspections or track what people are going where. It’s not their business and the fact Los Angeles is looking to do this is ludicrous. This also gives Los Angeles County the chance to start charging their 12% Transient Occupancy Tax on Airbnb users who let someone rent a room for a month. For those who say there’s no way the city of LA will tell the county of LA who’s involved with Airbnb, I have a nice piece of the old Hollywoodland sign to sell you.
It’s pretty obvious why both San Francisco and Los Angeles want to do this: money. For San Francisco, it’s a chance to get around $3.3M total from Uber and Lyft drivers a year. It also provides protection for the taxi cab industry which is seeing its rates decline because of Uber and Lyft’s popularity. By protecting the taxi cab industry, the politicians make sure their own campaign accounts stay full. Los Angeles could reap in plenty of cash from their own hotel tax for affordable housing, while also protecting those massive Hilton and Marriott hotels strewn across the city. It’s the perfect set up for both cities to get their monetary cake and eat it too.
It’s so frustrating to see cities like this consider it, and it’s not just a California (or Left Coast) problem. If regulations like these succeed, what’s to stop New York from doing it? Or Dallas? Or San Antonio? Or Detroit? The only way to stop this, is to support the companies fighting against and to explain to others why this is a problem. If there’s a way to expose a connection between the city and an industry they’re trying to protect (see Yellow Taxi Cab’s relationship with Dallas City Council members), then it needs to be done. It also means big businesses are going to have to adapt to changing markets instead of running to their buddies in government to help. This is why it’s so important to crack down on the buying and selling of politicians, whether they’re local, state, or national ones. It doesn’t mean banning corporations (or corporate leaders) from donating to politicians, but making sure voters have easy access to who donates to who. I’m personally in favor of putting a list of names and occupations on an easily accessible area of a candidate’s website or requiring the release of said information every quarter (like Texas does). This way people know who the backers are and can decide whether their leaders are doing their job or just engaging in helping out their friends. Voters can also decide whether to keep the current people in power, who don’t like upstart businesses who don’t play the game, or someone else who is willing to let the free market drive things.