Missing the point on @UberBoston
It’s the age old issue that any trail blazing company faces, laws and regulations don’t keep up with the speed of technology. Uber is a startup private “taxi” service; you call for a ride with your smartphone and it comes and picks you up and you pay with your card that is stored on your account. The entire transaction is smooth and has won themselves a loyal following, and rightly so. It’s innovative and takes advantage of all the things we love about technology today to provide a service deeply in need of modernization.
Billing is done via the GPS of a smart phone, which is both cool and at the crux of the issue that earned UberBoston a cease and desist from the Division of Standards of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
There’s also been quite a bit of reaction to this, none positive towards the Commonwealth. Personally I’m not a fan of the we-don’t-understand-it-so-we-must-kill-it attitude, and I wish Government could keep up with technology, but I understand the issue at hand and disagree with the reactive outrage that most people seem to be expressing.
People have accused the State of protectionism of an aging and already imperfect system, not getting their cut, not seeing how other industries already use GPS, and scoffing at inaccuracy claims relative to other uses of the technology, or even that their experience shows how awesome it is and it’s fine.
A common analogy and sentiment seems to be “So let me get this straight Massachusetts, our country thinks it is ok to make GPS guided bombs to drop on human beings but you don’t think citizens can choose to order a service that uses it to measure a distance to a nearby destination?” No, this is not the argument at hand. Before making my own analogy, let me make clear that the GPS in your phone and the circumstances in how and which it is used is entirely different than the hardware, software, and circumstances of a guided missile or many other applications.
I think a better analogy for this would be: if you setup a new startup selling bulk foods (raw grains, cooked foods, etc), you have to use an approved scale to weigh the amount being purchased. One that is regularly certified for it’s accuracy and precision, you can’t just grab whatever you want off the shelf no matter how technologically advanced, how long humans have been perfecting the techniques and technology, or how other industries rely on certain measuring methods that you too are using, and you certainly can’t rely on a consumer device that multitasks as a multitude of other appliances.
Now, it is entirely possible that this is protectionism, a money grab, or the like; the main issue remains: “according to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Division of Standards […] the company’s use of GPS-equipped smartphones is the culprit" which is technically a very correct concern to have (the best kind of correct).
Other industries are not using consumer quality GPS devices, I don’t want a GPS shadow due to a tall building increasing my fare accidentally because the driver was using a first generation iPhone. People have talked about how other industries have perfected GPS but that’s not what they’re using it’s a consumer device that is much more prone to error and by law required to accept outside interference; look at the reviews for your favorite GPS Sport Tracking Apps in the iTunes store or Android store people complain about accuracy all the time, it’s not the software developers fault, it’s just the quality of signal they receive from the phone’s GPS API. Now imagine if these people were billed by that. Smartphone GPS is certainly good and quite possibly good enough most of the time (finding directions, tracking your workouts, checking in to a venue), but when it comes down to people’s money… maybe it’s not good enough.
GPS very well might be added to the list of approved methods for tracking fares, but then, it might still be limited to specific devices, and those specific devices will need to be tested and certified regularly.
As I write this, it seems as the ruling has been overturned. A nice step in the right direction!