Uber will fight to keep its Boston ride data private

Uber's data is a trade secret doesn't have to be publicly disclosed under Massachusetts law

Earlier this month, Uber agreed to provide Boston city officials a wealth of ride data to help them make better planning decisions -- but it will go to considerable lengths to ensure that data is not made public.

The data, which includes anonymous pick-off and drop-off locations for each Uber ride, contains confidential commercial and financial information that prohibits the city from sharing it publicly, according to Uber's agreement with the city.

While citizens are often entitled access to public records, Uber and the city agreed that the data it provided contains trade secrets, which making it exempt from public disclosure under a section of Massachusetts Public Records Law.

To protect the data, Uber even agreed to cover Boston's legal bills if the city is ever sued for access to the information, the agreement states. In instances where judges compel the city to hand over data they deem isn't a trade secret or confidential, Uber will be notified by the city so it can fight the request in court.

Uber didn't respond to a request for comment on the agreement, which was obtained by The Boston Globe under a public records request. But with rivals like Lyft and Sidecar nipping at its heels, it's not hard to imagine why it would want the data kept secret.

It includes data about tens of thousands of Uber rides in the city each day, including the wait time for ride-share vehicles and approximate pick-up and drop-off times.

Conclusions from the data can be used in reports and presentations that the city plans to release publicly, and Uber is working with the city to determine what details from the data the city can share.

Uber announced earlier this month that it would provide Boston with the data in a first of its kind deal for the company.

The information should help with transportation planning, parking analysis and understanding how residents move around the city, the company said at the time. By volunteering the information, Uber could also gain political capital at a time when governments are trying to regulate its service.

Uber will provide the data quarterly and Boston should have received its first batch by Jan. 22, according to the agreement.

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'connor@idg.com

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