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Linas Jegelevicius

Linas Jegelevicius

Baltic Times

Linas Jegelevicius is a veteran Lithuanian editor and freelance journalist, and the editor-in-chief of the Baltic Times newspaper, the longest running English print news outlet…

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Ride-Sharing: The Next Hotbed For Cybercrime?

Yandex

Even though the Baltic States unanimously agree that Russia poses menace to them, they’re allowing Yandex.Taxi--a popular Uber-like ride-sharing Russian company--to operate in their territories, but not without serious reservations.  

Now Lithuania, the largest of the three is urging the public not to download the ride-sharing app because it may be enabled to unlawfully collect the personal data of users.

Lithuania‘s National Cyber Centre (NCSC), a new body of the country’s Ministry of Defence tasked with identifying and cordoning off cybersecurity threats, issued a statement, saying that the app “potentially creates conditions for unlawful collection and storage of personal data, causing concern regarding their security”.

The NCSC pointed out that the Yandex.Taxi app requests access to a large amount of sensitive information and permission to use such functions of a user's device as activating its camera or microphone, or managing its wireless network access.

According to the Center, data from a user's device is stored on the servers of the organization headquartered in Russia and may be provided to public bodies, regulatory authorities, courts and other third parties.

Yandex Lithuania vehemently denied the suspicions, saying said that Dutch-registered Yandex.Taxi BV, which administers the app, “fully” complies with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

“Client data security is our key priority... All the company’s client data are processed and stored strictly in line with EU legislative acts, including the data protection regulation (GDPR),” Natalia Zhuravleva, head of the international press service of Yandex.Taxi, said. Related: What Is Vanadium And Why Did Its Price Just Skyrocket?

According to her, the functions available in the users’ mobile devices such as access to GPS data are in order to locate the client hailing the taxi.

It was Vilnius mayor Remigijus Simasius who alerted the State Security Department (VSD) and the Competition Board that the Russian tax-hailing app might not be in accordance with Lithuanian laws. The former was asked to opine on the possible breaches of the strict-than-ever personal data law and the latter for an alleged violation of Law on Advertising.

The taxi app's headquarters is in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and it is part of Russia's top-three internet search-engine company, Yandex. Yandex is said to hold 65 percent of all searches, popular maps and public transit apps in Russia.

Unlike other similar services in the Baltic nations, Yandex.Taxi alerts the user about the price of the ride right after the address of the place of departure and the address of the destination have been put in. The fare stays the same even when the ride takes longer due to a traffic jam or road works.

Estonia was the first of the Baltic States to launch Yandex Taxi and the second EU member state where Yandex started its service. Yandex Taxi launched in Latvia in mid- March, and during the first month, 50,000 people used the service in Riga, the capital of Latvia. Yandex.Taxi has around 300 cars in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital.

Despite the warnings from the authorities, some 300,000 Vilnius residents are believed to have installed the app in the first three days.

In July, the ride-sharing company Uber said it was merging with Yandex in Russia and five other ex-Soviet republics. Yandex will own about 59 percent and Uber roughly 37 percent of the combined company. Uber invested $225 million and Yandex $100 million dollars in the joint venture.

By Linas Jegelevicius for Safehaven.com

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