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WA court slams down Uber and Lyft 'trade secrets'... for now

An Uber driver near the San Francisco International Airport.
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
An Uber driver near the San Francisco International Airport.

If you want to do business on the public’s streets, it's going to be hard to keep your data private.

That’s the message from Washington’s Supreme Court to Uber and Lyft. In a 5-4 ruling, justices told the companies that "trade secrets" don't prevent rideshare data from being released under the state’s public records law.

The companies have been sharing this data — including information about where people are picked up and dropped off — with the city of Seattle as a condition of doing business here.

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But that doesn't mean it's easy for a member of the public to request this information. A few years ago, a Texan named Jeff Kirk submitted a public records request to the city for Uber and Lyft's shared data. He said he wanted it to see if the ridesharing companies were refusing to pick people up in certain parts of the city. He was looking for evidence of racism.

Uber and Lyft fought back, saying the data is competitive information – “trade secrets".

But the state Supreme court said companies using public streets must meet a tough standard to keep this data private.

They must first prove the information being sought is actually not in the public interest. Then they have to prove that going public with the data would do the companies “substantial and irreparable” harm.

Assistant city attorney Michael Ryan welcomed the ruling, saying Seattle will show in court why Uber and Lyft can't meet this standard.

And in a statement, Uber said it is looking forward to showing “why these trade secrets should be protected.”