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Ola threatens to sue if customer doesn’t erase social media posts

The tussle has sparked questions about EVs and data ownership.

Ola Electric has warned a customer of legal action if he does not delete his social media posts that criticise the e-scooter manufacturer within 24 hours, according to a Moneycontrol report. This was, in turn, a response to Balwant Singh’s notice urging Ola to take down the telemetry data (generated by his son’s scooter) that the company had posted online.

It further denied breaching Singh’s privacy as he himself had made his identity public by complaining on Twitter. The dispute arose when Singh alleged that his son Reetam had met with an accident because of a fault in the Ola S1 Pro’s regenerative braking system. Many on Twitter raised serious concerns about the safety of Ola scooters, and then the company invited more criticism by publicly sharing the speed and braking data of a customer.

Ola Electric has found itself in hot water with complaints of delayed deliveries and malfunctioning e-scooters gaining traction on social media. The company recently recalled over 1,400 units. Meanwhile, fake accounts on Twitter are looking to build a positive narrative around Ola by trolling anyone who criticises the company, Mint reported. The notice to Balwant Singh can be seen as Ola doubling down on its critics by hinting at a potential lawsuit.

Telemetry data is not personal: Ola

The telemetry data posted online is not legally considered “personal” as it does not contain any personally identifiable information or sensitive personal information of Reetam Singh, Ola said in its response. It added that the telemetry data does not come under the ambit of personal or sensitive information in the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011.

However, Ola’s own privacy policy classifies telemetry data as personal data. Moreover, “the person involved in the accident (Mr Balwant’s son) can be identified from certain publicly available communications. So if it is possible to identify who the person is, any information relating to that person is personal,” Lalit Panda, a senior legal policy researcher said.

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Citing the Supreme Court’s Puttwaswamy judgement, Ola said that the moment Balwant Singh had used his son’s name on social media, he “cannot have any reasonable and legitimate expectation of privacy.” It also accused Balwant Singh of creating a negative image of the company by tagging high-ranking government officials.

What information does Ola collect?

According to Ola’s privacy policy, in addition to data like name, address, mobile, financial information, etc, Ola also collects the following:

  • Telemetry data such as performance, operations, usage of Products
  • Location information, including the GPS location of
    • any person placing an order through the Ola Electric website or mobile application or any other mode
    • while using location-based services through Products and Services
    • addresses provided for providing the Products or Services by us
  • Details of the vehicle purchased, e.g., vehicle license number, VIN, etc.

Who owns the data that an Ola scooter generates?

Another urgent concern that the Singhs have expressed is about the ownership of the data generated by the scooters. As per Reetam Singh, the scooter had been sent to an Ola workshop immediately after the accident on March 26.

“They have published the data they took from my scooter. They had it in their workshop for over ten days. If they override the data sets in my scooter during repairs, I can’t prove otherwise as they have refused any paperwork that lists what actual components they replaced within. This is a serious question on data ownership. I paid money for a device whose data is owned and accessible only to a third party with me having no right to access the same.” — Reetam Singh

By getting access to telemetry data, the customer could hire private investigators to independently verify their claims and put before the court. “At the very least, it creates an abusive position of disparity between them and others, like normal citizens, who lack the capacity to either verify such data or to equally effectively present their own data,” Supreme Court lawyer Nikhil Mehra said.

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