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5 key innovations taking e-scooters to a half-billion rides in 2021

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Four years ago, shared e-scooters didn’t exist. Today, they’re on track to surpass half a billion rides globally by 2021, far outpacing early growth in the carbon-heavy ride-hailing industry founded by Uber in 2009.

That’s a dramatic shift in urban transportation by any measure, and it prompts a simple but important question: How did we get here?

Understanding the key developments that helped advance micromobility over the past several years can give us valuable insights not only into where the industry is headed, but about how we can successfully shape it to meet the needs of hundreds of millions of current and future riders around the world.

From vehicle design and data to safety reporting and infrastructure, these five innovative moments have helped fuel the global growth of shared e-scooters and are helping lead cities into a healthier, more sustainable future.

#1: Shared scooters launched (fall 2017)

The very first fleet of Bird e-scooters was launched in Santa Monica, California in September of 2017. Up until this point, the micromobility industry consisted almost entirely of docked and dockless bike sharing systems that were averaging approximately 35 million trips across the United States every year — more than half of them in New York City alone.

After an encouraging start, shared e-scooter riders in the U.S. took nearly 39 million trips in 2018 and another 86 million the following year. A similar trajectory is being seen across the Atlantic, as nations such as Italy, England and the Ukraine join a rapidly expanding list of countries including Germany, France, Israel, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, Poland and others who have chosen to supplement their urban transportation networks with modern micromobility alternatives.

Shared scooters can now be found in over 200 cities on almost every continent around the world.

#2: First custom-designed shared scooters released (fall 2018)

The first e-scooter programs taught us two things very quickly: There’s high demand for this type of micromobility offering, and custom-designed vehicles are necessary to successfully meet that demand.

The fact is, shared scooters are ridden more frequently, handle more diverse road surfaces and endure more varied weather conditions than privately owned ones. That’s why Bird’s vehicle team unveiled the industry’s first custom-designed e-scooter, the Bird Zero, in October of 2018. Equipped with more battery life, better lighting, enhanced durability and more advanced GPS technology, this was the first in a series of comprehensive vehicle evolutions intended to increase safety, sustainability and lifespan — and it worked. Tens of thousands of these scooters are still in use today, and every month of continued service reduces their already low per-mile lifetime carbon emissions even further.

Subsequent custom vehicle designs, including the Bird One and Bird Two, have added onto this foundation, introducing industry-first features such as:

  • On-board diagnostic sensors capable of detecting over 200 faults.
  • Vehicle intelligence systems capable of running and reporting millions of autonomous fault checks per day.
  • IP67 or IP68 waterproofing on batteries.
  • 14,000 mile (22,500 km) battery life, resulting in more than 10 years of average everyday use.
  • Mechanical design independently tested to withstand more than 60,000 curbside impacts.

#3: Comprehensive industry safety report released (spring 2019)

Safety has rightly been the most important focus, and the most discussed aspect, of shared micromobility since its inception. It’s why Bird launched the industry’s earliest and most comprehensive free helmets for all riders campaign in January of 2018, along with a host of other safety initiatives.

In April of 2019, these programs culminated in a comprehensive e-scooter safety report. This was the first in-depth look at modern micromobility systems, using accident reports and other data to demonstrate that shared scooters have risks and vulnerabilities similar to bicycles. The report laid the groundwork for cooperative safety measures to be taken by both operators and cities to ensure that not only riders and pedestrians but all road users are protected.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve used the findings contained within the report, along with others that have since echoed its findings, to imagine and develop a series of product innovations that are helping set the standard for e-scooter safety across the industry. These include:

  • Shared micromobility’s first Helmet Selfie feature to promote helmet use.
  • Shared micromobility’s first Warm Up Mode feature to assist new riders.
  • The first and most accurate geofencing for e-scooters to create reduced-speed and no-riding zones.
  • Responsible data-sharing standards and practices to help cities build new infrastructure for bikes and scooters.

#4: Open Mobility Foundation created (summer 2019)

The last bullet above is particularly important. Cities have a crucial role to play in limiting the number of cars on the road and maximizing the amount of infrastructure available for bikes and scooters. It’s a proven strategy to improve the safety of all road users that depends heavily on one critical input: reliable, standardized data.

Since our first launch, Bird has been a strong proponent of responsible data sharing with cities. What was lacking, however, was a unified body to help guide and develop mobility data standards across the micromobility industry.

All of that changed in June of 2019, when cities like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco came together with companies like Bird and Microsoft and a consortium of nonprofit organizations called OASIS to form the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF). As chairperson and general manager of the LADOT Seleta Reynolds wrote in Forbes, the OMF platform “helps us achieve important city goals like increasing safety, equity, and health outcomes, while lowering emissions, and reducing congestion.”

These collaborative efforts to manage micromobility systems using open-source code and shared data standards might seem wonky, but they’ve had some very tangible real-world effects. In Atlanta, shared e-scooter data has been used to quadruple the city’s protected bike lanes by 2021. Santa Monica recently used scooter data to draft and pass an amendment that will add 19 new miles of separated micromobility infrastructure.

#5: UK, NY e-scooter programs approved (spring 2020)

This year’s decisions by the UK and the state of New York to legalize shared e-scooters and launch respective pilot programs may not be an innovation, but it’s a crucial development that will ensure the industry tops 500 million rides in 2021.

From an environmental and urban mobility perspective, London and New York are two of the most important cities in the world. Combined, they’re home to 17 million people and more than 10 million daily car trips. The introduction of e-scooters into these two densely packed and highly mobile cities will have a dramatic impact on daily commuter habits, particularly at a time when public transit ridership is still suffering due to COVID-19. That’s good news for cities, citizens and the environment.

The data that will be gained from such a high volume of micromobility rides won’t just help inform infrastructure improvements in New York and London. It will be added to a growing body of research that’s rapidly influencing micromobility technology and accelerating its adoption around the world.

Looking forward

So what can we learn from all of this? What will the first four years and 500 million rides of the shared e-scooter industry tell us about the future of micromobility?

First, we should expect its growth to continue. Adaptable, environmentally friendly solutions to car congestion and urban pollution were in high demand even before the global spread of the coronavirus in 2020. Now they’re proving themselves to be a necessity. Look for the relationships between cities and operators to strengthen and become more cooperative as scooters transition from a perceived recreational vehicle to an essential part of the urban transportation grid. This will include dramatic, data-informed improvements in protected infrastructure for both cyclists and scooter riders.

Second, we should anticipate that e-scooter technology will continue to develop around two key pillars: safety and sustainability. This applies as much to the form and functionality of the vehicles themselves as it does to the daily operations that manage them. Longer lifespan, improved battery performance, increased durability and enhanced diagnostics will be the benchmarks by which we measure this progress.

Finally, we should anticipate that, as the data from hundreds of millions of annual rides continues to accumulate, our understanding of urban mobility needs will become much clearer and more nuanced. Urban planning decisions will be able to be made based on street and hour-specific needs, identifying potentially dangerous areas and taking low-cost, high-impact actions to remedy them.

If current trends continue, and there’s every reason to believe that they will, the time it takes to add another half-billion e-scooter rides to the global total will very soon shrink from four years to less than one.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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US Fertility says patient data was stolen in a ransomware attack

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U.S. Fertility, one of the largest networks of fertility clinics in the United States, has confirmed it was hit by a ransomware attack and that data was taken.

The company was formed in May as a partnership between Shady Grove Fertility, a fertility clinic with dozens of locations across the U.S. east coast, and Amulet Capital Partners, a private equity firm that invests largely in the healthcare space. As a joint venture, U.S. Fertility now claims 55 locations across the U.S., including California.

In a statement, U.S. Fertility said that the hackers “acquired a limited number of files” during the month that they were in its systems, until the ransomware was triggered on September 14. That’s a common technique of data-stealing ransomware, which steals data before encrypting the victim’s network for ransom. Some ransomware groups publish the stolen files on their websites if their ransom demand isn’t paid.

U.S. Fertility said some personal information, like names and addresses, were taken in the attack. Some patients also had their Social Security numbers taken. But the company warned that the attack may have involved protected health information. Under U.S. law, that can include information about a person’s health or medical conditions, like test results and medical records.

A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the incident. (Thursday is a national holiday in the U.S..)

U.S. Fertility didn’t say why it took more than two month to publicly disclose the attack, but said in the notice that its disclosure was not delayed at the request of law enforcement.

This is the latest attack targeting the healthcare sector. In September, one of the largest hospital systems in the U.S., Universal Health Services, was hit by the Ryuk ransomware, forcing some affected emergency rooms to close and to turn patients away. Several other fertility clinics have been attacked by ransomware in recent months.

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GDPR enforcement must level up to catch big tech, report warns

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A new report by European consumer protection umbrella group Beuc, reflecting on the barriers to effective cross-border enforcement of the EU’s flagship data protection framework, makes awkward reading for the regional lawmakers and regulators as they seek to shape the next decades of digital oversight across the bloc.

Beuc’s members filed a series of complaints against Google’s use of location data in November 2018 — but some two years on from raising privacy concerns there’s been no resolution of the complaints.

The tech giant continues to make billions in ad revenue, including by processing and monetize Internet users’ location data. Its lead data protection supervisor, under GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism for dealing with cross-border complaints, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), did finally open an investigation in February this year.

But it could still be years before Google faces any regulatory action in Europe related to its location tracking.

This is because Ireland’s DPC has yet to issue any cross-border GDPR decisions, some 2.5 years after the regulation started being applied. (Although, as we reported recently, a case related to a Twitter data breach is inching towards a result in the coming days.)

By contrast, France’s data watchdog, the CNIL, was able to complete a GDPR investigation into the transparency of Google’s data processing in much quicker order last year.

This summer French courts also confirmed the $57M fine it issued, slapping down Google’s appeal.

But the case predated Google coming under the jurisdiction of the DPC. And Ireland’s data regulator has to deal with a disproportionate number of multinational tech companies, given how many have established their EU base in the country.

The DPC has a major backlog of cross-border cases, with more than 20 GDPR probes involving a number of tech companies including Apple, Facebook/WhatsApp and LinkedIn. (Google has also been under investigation in Ireland over its adtech since 2019.)

This week the EU’s internet market commissioner, Thierry Breton, said regional lawmakers are well aware of enforcement “bottlenecks” in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

He suggested the Commission has learned lessons from this friction — claiming it will ensure similar concerns don’t affect the future working of a regulatory proposal related to data reuse that he was out speaking in public to introduce.

The Commission wants to create standard conditions for rights-respecting reuse of industrial data across the EU, via a new Data Governance Act (DGA), which proposes similar oversight mechanisms as are involved in the EU’s oversight of personal data — including national agencies monitoring compliance and a centralized EU steering body (which they’re planning to call the European Data Innovation Board as a mirror entity to the European Data Protection Board).

The Commission’s ambitious agenda for updating and expanding the EU’s digital rules framework, means criticism of GDPR risks taking the shine off the DGA before the ink has dried on the proposal document — putting pressure on lawmakers to find creative ways to unblock GDPR’s enforcement “bottleneck”. (Creative because national agencies are responsibility for day to day oversight, and Member States are responsible for resourcing DPAs.) 

In an initial GDPR review this summer, the Commission praised the regulation as a “modern and horizontal piece of legislation” and a “global reference point” — claiming it’s served as a point of inspiration for California’s CCPA and other emerging digital privacy frameworks around the world.

But they also conceded GDPR enforcement is lacking.

The best answer to this concern “will be a decision from the Irish data protection authority about important cases”, the EU’s justice commissioner, Didier Reynders, said in June.

Five months later European citizens are still waiting.

Beuc’s report — which it’s called The long and winding road: Two years of the GDPR: A cross-border data protection case from a consumer perspective — details the procedural obstacles its member organizations have faced in seeking to obtain a decision related to the original complaints, which were filed with a variety of DPAs around the EU.

This includes concerns of the Irish DPC making unnecessary “information and admissibility checks”; as well as rejecting complaints brought by an interested organization on the grounds they lack a mandate under Irish law, because it does not allow for third party redress (yet the Dutch consumer organization had filed the complaint under Dutch law which does…).

The report also queries why the DPC chose to open an own volition enquiry into Google’s location data activities (rather than a complaint-led enquiry) — which Beuc says risks a further delay to reaching a decision on the complaints themselves.

It further points out that the DPC’s probe of Google only looks at activity since February 2020 not November 2018 when the complaints were made — meaning there’s a missing chunk of Google’s location data processing that’s not even being investigated yet.

It notes that three of its member organizations involved in the Google complaints had considered applying for a judicial review of the DPC’s decision (NB: others have resorted to that route) — but they decided not to proceed in part because of the significant legal costs it would have entailed.

The report also points out the inherent imbalance of GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism shifting the administration of complaints to the location of companies under investigation — arguing they therefore benefit from “easier access to justice” (vs the ordinary consumer faced with undertaking legal proceedings in a different country and (likely) language).

“If the lead authority is in a country with tradition in ‘common law’, like Ireland, things can become even more complex and costly,” Beuc’s report further notes.

Another issue it raises is the overarching one of rights complaints having to fight what it dubs ‘a moving target’ — given well-resourced tech companies can leverage regulatory delays to (superficially) tweak practices, greasing continued abuse with misleading PR campaigns. (Something Beuc accuses Google of doing.)

DPAs must “adapt their enforcement approach to intervene more rapidly and directly”, it concludes.

“Over two years have passed since the GDPR became applicable, we have now reached a turning point. The GDPR must finally show its strength and become a catalyst for urgently needed changes in business practices,” Beuc goes on in a summary of its recommendations. “Our members experience and that of other civil society organisations, reveals a series of obstacles that significantly hamper the effective application of the GDPR and the correct functioning of its enforcement system.

BEUC recommends to the relevant EU and national authorities to make a comprehensive and joint effort to ensure the swift enforcement of the rules and improve the position of data subjects and their representing organisations, particularly in the framework of cross-border enforcement cases.”

We reached out to the Commission and the Irish DPC with questions about the report. But at the time of writing neither had responded. We’ve also asked Google for comment.

Beuc earlier sent a list of eight recommendations for “efficient” GDPR enforcement to the Commission in May.

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Equity Dive: Edtech’s 2020 wakeup call

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Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week, we’re doing a first-ever for the show and taking a deep dive into one specific sector: Edtech.

Natasha Mascarenhas has covered education technology since Stanford first closed down classes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In the wake of the historic shuttering of much of the United States’ traditional institutions of education, the sector has formed new unicorns, attracted record-breaking venture capital totals, and most of all, enjoyed time in a long-overdue spotlight.

For this Equity Dive, we zero into one part of that conversation: Edtech’s impact on higher education. We brought together Udacity co-founder and Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun, Eschaton founder and college drop-out Ian Dilick, and Cowboy Ventures investor Jomayra Herrera to answer our biggest questions.

Here’s what we got into:

  • How the state of remote school is leading to gap years among students
  • A framework for how to think of higher education’s main three products (including which is most defensible over time)
  • What learnings we can take from this COVID-19 experiment on remote schooling to apply to the future
  • Why ed-tech is flocking to the notion of life-long learning
  • And the reality of who self-paced learning serves — and who it leaves out

And much, much more. If you celebrate, thank you for spending part of your Thanksgiving with the Equity crew. We’re so thankful to have this platform and audience, and it means a ton that y’all tune in each week.

Finally, if you liked this format and want to see more, feel free to tweet us your thoughts or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. Talk soon!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

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