Seattle Regulators Go After Rideshare Driver Privacy

Today, I have a column up at on the need for classical liberals to make financial privacy as important an aspect of their outlook as personal privacy. The need for vigilance against all kinds of intrusion of privacy is currently being demonstrated in Seattle, where city officials are making unjustified demands of ridesharing services over the comings and goings of drivers who use their platforms to find customers, all in an effort to force them into paying dues to unions.

Last year, Seattle city council passed an ordinance that allowed drivers to form groups that could have the power to negotiate pay and conditions with their platforms. As the R Street Institute’s Ian Adams explained, “The ability to bargain collectively is more typically associated with a traditional employer-employee relationship, and it is a poor fit for companies like Uber and Lyft” (as drivers who use those platforms are independent contractors). This led to Seattle dropping a whole grade in its friendliness to ridesharing in R Street’s 2015 Ridescore index.

The ordinance led to the Chamber of Commerce filing suit against the city for violation of the Sherman Act and pre-emption of the National Labor Relations Act.

The ordinance also violates drivers’ privacy. It requires platforms to provide all potential unions or associations “seeking to represents [sic] their drivers the names, addresses, email addresses (if available), and phone number (if available) of all qualifying drivers they hire, contract with, or partner with.” This can happen even before drivers themselves choose to seek representation. The potential for harassment is obvious.

The regulations implementing the ordinance are not yet finalized, but Seattle is already seeking this information. Lyft has received an email that reads:


In order for the City to begin drafting rules that would implement Ordinance 124698 <>, including defining a “qualifying driver,” the City of Seattle requests you to provide the following driver and trip data between April 1, 2015, and March 31, 2016, on all drivers who drive on your company’s app or use your dispatch system:

Driver identifier that differentiates one driver from another (driver 1, driver 2, driver 3, etc.). Examples might include:

– A driver’s King County/City of Seattle for-hire driver permit number or

– A number used by your company to identify a driver

– Trip dates (month/day/year)

– Trip pickup times

– Trip drop-off times

In submitting the data, you could do so via one of two methods. You may upload data to King County’s sftp website using your current login credentials or you may e-mail the data.

Please submit data in a format, such as Excel, that allows the City to sort and organize it. A .csv file is acceptable. A scanned PDF containing the data will not meet the City’s request. Data should be submitted or uploaded no later than 5pm on May 6, 2016.

None of this information is necessary to implement the statute. The city is clearly engaged in a fishing expedition, presumably in order to arm its union allies for the fight ahead. Rideshare platforms are used to this, as Uber’s Transparency Report shows—that company alone had to provide over 12 million pieces of information on drivers to federal, state, and local regulators last year. That number will only increase if cities around the nation follow Seattle’s lead.

Seattle’s approach represents an attempt to force unwilling labor market participants into their preferred model of employment. As the Manhattan Institute’s Jared Meyer explained,

Seattle’s push to unionize Uber and its competitors shows that many politicians do not understand what drives a 21st century workforce, nor younger workers’ goals. More than eight in ten Uber drivers are satisfied with their work arrangements, mostly because they are self-employed and can control when and where they work. But rather than embracing promising developments that promote entrepreneurship, many politicians call for a return to the manufacturing “golden age” of the 1950s—and the high unionization rates and inflexible workforce that accompanied it.

As some forthcoming blog posts of mine will point out, the phenomenon Jared describes is caused by a reduction in transaction costs that has opened up new markets. If union greed kills off these markets, which will not exist in a world of government-enforced high transaction costs, then the public backlash, particularly among young people, could be substantial.