Trans rights activist Monica Jones just wanted to have a drink at her favorite Phoenix, Arizona bar on Friday before a Facebook message sent her running home.
The Lyft driver who dropped Jones off at a popular trans bar, posted her name and location to a Facebook group for local ride-share drivers, the Daily Dot reported.
“Word of caution to the hetero males among you: I just dropped off a ‘lady’ of the evening named Monica at Cruisin’ 7th tavern. Notice the deliberate emphasis on ‘Mon,’” wrote Lyft driver Paul Fiarkoski with the hashtag #gendermatters.
Jones isn’t a sex worker but she became a strong voice for trans rights issues after being arrested and convicted for prostitution when simply walking down the street. The case sparked the “Walking While Trans” movement in 2014 and her conviction was overturned early last year. A couple of months later, she addressed the United Nations in Geneva about human rights protections for sex workers.
One of Jones’ friends flagged Fiarkoski’s Facebook post, prompting her to walk home. “If you just say ‘Monica’ and the bar Cruisin’ 7, people know what that is. It’s a local trans hangout. When he posted that, I literally had to get up and walk out,” Jones said.
Being wrongfully profiled as sex workers is a serious concern for the LGBT community, one that is compounded by the location data gig-economy services such as Lyft rely on.
“That really stuck out — the fact that I had to walk home because of this incident,” Jones said in an interview with the Daily Dot. “I could have been profiled and arrested, I could have been killed. So many trans people are killed on the streets everyday. My life felt like it was in jeopardy either way: when he posted my location, and when I walked home.”
Lyft apologized to Jones after she submitted a complaint, saying that “necessary actions” would be taken with the driver and a $15 would be added to her account.
Jones’ experience embodies major privacy concerns for passengers using car-hailing apps. Doxxing, or disclosing someone’s personal information such as their location without permission, has become one of the most extreme forms of harassment. The tactic has been used as a form of vigilante justice such as with the hactivist group Anonymous, to further a political ideal, or intimidation.
With app-based services such as Lyft and Uber, which rely on customers’ location data, the risk for privacy breaches is higher. Uber was accused of collecting riders’ personal data even after the ride has ended.
The risk of exposing private data is acutely concerning in the hands of employees, who often have unfettered access to customers’ private information. In 2014, an Uber executive was “disciplined” after using the company’s “God View” location tool to track a journalist en route to an interview with the company.
Privacy and safety worries have escalated with the number of complaints against drivers for car-hailing apps. Local police are investigating a string of sexual assaults linked to Uber and Lyft drivers in Austin, Texas.
Uber has been especially criticized for hiring drivers who are prone to violence. The shooter responsible for the deadly shooting in Kalamazoo, Michigan in February reportedly picked up Uber passengers in between the hours-long rampage that killed six.
Complaints of violence and bad behavior from drivers adds fuel to regulators’ efforts to rein in Uber and Lyft and make them adhere to labor regulations similar to taxicab companies. The two app companies don’t consider their thousands of drivers as employees, instead classifying them as contractors, which limits their liability to provide fair wages, benefits, and potentially drivers’ behavior.
Uber is currently fighting a lawsuit that claims the company doesn’t take customer safety seriously by not conducting background checks on drivers and marketing to young women who are out drinking and need a ride home. Those policies, the lawsuit alleges, directly led to the sexual assaults of two California women.