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Uber Scores an Early (Mostly) Win in Lyft Drivers' Privacy Suit

[caption id="attachment_14031" align="alignnone" width="620"] Lyft driver lounge called the Hub, located at 2300 26th Street in San Francisco. (Photo: Jason Doiy/ALM)[/caption] SAN FRANCISCO — Uber has gotten an early win in a lawsuit brought on behalf of Lyft drivers who claim that Uber violated various federal and California state privacy laws by tracking their driving for the rival ride-hailing platform. A federal magistrate judge in San Francisco granted Uber's motion to dismiss most of the claims in the lawsuit, finding that the plaintiffs hadn't alleged that Uber had "eavesdropped" on drivers' communications with Lyft or accessed the "content" of those communications. In Wednesday's decision, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley of the Northern District of California, who is overseeing the case, noted that the plaintiffs accused Uber of posing as Lyft riders—meaning Uber was accessing information directly from Lyft, rather than its drivers. That Uber software mimicked Lyft riders is "of no moment" for the purposes of the lawsuit, which was brought under federal wiretap law and other statutes, she concluded. Lawyers at Audet & Partners in San Francisco and Zimmerman Reed in Manhattan Beach, California, sued Uber in April 2017 claiming that the company created spyware to track drivers providing rides on the rival Lyft platform. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Michael Gonzales, a former Lyft driver, in the wake of a report by The Information that Uber designed software code-named “Hell” to track Lyft drivers' locations using fake Lyft rider accounts. Mark Burton of Audet & Partners didn't respond to messages Thursday. On motion to dismiss, Uber's lawyers at Shook, Hardy & Bacon—Patrick Oot Jr. in Washington, D.C., and M. Kevin Underhill and Annie Chuang in San Francisco—argued that the plaintiffs couldn't show just what Lyft driver communications Uber had intercepted or how it had done it. "The communications occurred directly between Lyft and Uber posing as Lyft riders; there was no contemporaneous transmission between plaintiff and Lyft that was stopped or interrupted by Uber," Corley wrote. Corley also found that the Lyft driver Gonzales had no grounds to bring an invasion of privacy claim under California's Constitution due to the fact that he was already broadcasting his location via the ride-hailing app. "Plaintiff consented to the sharing of his geolocation data with perfect strangers (Lyft riders); thus, under the circumstances he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such information," Corley wrote. Corely did, however, wave through Gonzales' claim under California's Unfair Competition Law alleging that he lost revenue since Uber's efforts—aimed at getting drivers to offer rides only on its platform—caused greater wait times for Lyft riders and drove users to the more heavily populated Uber platform. "Whether plaintiff will be able to prove that allegation is a question for another day," she wrote. An Uber spokesman on Thursday declined to comment on the decision.