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Is Getaround the Uber of Car Sharing?

Friday, February 20, 2015


A Getaround member vehicle displaying price and owner. Photo illustration: getaround.com

While the battle over how to accommodate ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft continues at City Hall, another "sharing economy" company already in Portland allows users to earn money using their personal vehicles via a smartphone app. 

Through the car-sharing service Getaround, car owners lend out their cars to other drivers. Depending on the make and model, owners can earn thousands of dollars without lifting a finger while drivers are covered for up to $1,000,000 in insurance. 

But, there’s a catch. Getaround collects data on the habits of drivers -- including speed, distance driven, and GPS tracking -- through a chip called the Getaround Connect, which is installed in the vehicles’ dashboards.  

“There’s a really startling and frightening amount of data collecting that’s going on,” said Paul Stephens, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Privacy Rights, a non-profit consumer rights education center.

Getaround was able to launch in Portland in 2012 through a $1.725 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration, that was dependent on installing the Getaround Connect chip. The data is used to study “peer-to-peer” car sharing in the Portland Metro Area. The device provides "GPS tracking and cellular communications to a secure network for the purpose of car sharing."

Without a Facebook account, a driver cannot sign up for the service.

"I’m always concerned about an organization that requires the use of a social networking login to use its service because that login information potentially facilitates the sharing of data,” Stephens said. 

The company compares to institutionalized car-shares like Zipcar, founded in 1999, which charges by the hour or day, and Car2Go, founded in 2008, which charges by the minute. Both companies operate in Portland and own their fleets. 

Data Collection 

Getaround spokeswoman Meg Murray said data collected by the company, including drive time and mileage, is transferred to Portland State University’s Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC). Getaround was unable to confirm whether the data is shared with the FHA. 

Along with a credit check, driver’s license and abstract, the free membership requires a Facebook login. 

“It’s part of our trust and safety and renter identity verification process,” Murray said. 

However, it raises questions for digital privacy advocates, such as Stephens. 

"If you drive the vehicle to a large shopping mall, GPS would show that you were there.  If Facebook has access to this information, are you going to see an ad for a store in that mall?" he asks. 

Users whose profiles raise no red flags can have active memberships within hours of signing up, Murray said. Through the app, a potential driver can locate a car nearby, see the price, and drive away within minutes. 

Similar to rideshare companies, Getaround has a standard above which vehicles can join its Portland fleet of roughly 50 cars. Any car that is 2005 and newer with less than 150,000 miles is eligible. 

Based on the make, model and year, owners set a price per hour, day, or week, for the use of the car. Getaround collects 40 percent of the fee, paid electronically, and only requires owners have personal insurance. 

Existing Rules 

While other “sharing economy” companies, including Uber and AirBnb, have come up against the city, Getaround operates with little scrutiny, and was welcomed into town by then-mayor Sam Adams and Rep. Earl Blumenauer in 2012. 

Meanwhile, the April 9 deadline is nearing for a citizen Transportation Task Force, which met Thursday afternoon, to establish new transportation guidelines that will accommodate for-hire ridesharing companies, such as Uber and Lyft. Uber suspended operation in Portland in December after the city promised to fine the company and drivers, who were operating illegally. 

The task force is expected to produce rules that will create a level playing field for taxis and private for-hire drivers. 

The City of Portland’s administrative rules on car sharing, last updated in January of 2013, define a car sharing company as one with at least 20 vehicles. Each company must obtain a permit, but most of the regulatory language focuses overwhelmingly on on-street parking. 

By contrast, all of the roughly 200 Zipcars in Portland are owned by the Boston-based company. 

Zipcar spokesperson Jeremy Nelson said the company is aware of Getaround, but does not see the peer-to-peer car sharing start-up as competition. 

 “We consider car ownership our biggest competition,” Nelson said. 


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