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Wednesday 22.05.2019 | Name days: Emīlija
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Lithuania wants Yandex.Taxi out, taxi drivers reluctant to speak out

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Latvia got it, Estonia is fine with it, but Lithuania has bristled against it vehemently, with both National Cyber Centre (NCSC) and Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis warning that the Yandex.Taxi ride-sharing app «potentially creates conditions for unlawful collection and storage of personal data, causing concern regarding their security».

This is what the Ministry of Defence said in a press release.

«The NCSC is carrying out a comprehensive security analysis of the Yandex.Taxi app. Until specific facts on the app’s security are not identified, the NCSC recommends against installing it onto your devices,» the Centre said, adding that it is «especially important» that this app is not used in devices of Lithuanian civil servants and officials and national defence system employees.

The Ministry 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 Ministry, data from a user’s device are stored on the servers of the organisation headquartered in Russia and may be provided to public bodies, regulatory authorities, courts and other third parties.

Romualdas Bieliauskas, president of Vilnius-based taxi drivers did not want to comment the situation, excusing himself by saying that it is «too delicate. »

«I really do not want to voice my opinion at the point. We all have to live a little longer to see who is right and who is wrong,» he told BNN.

Other taxi service providers were also reluctant to comment the recommendations of the National Cyber Centre and the head of government.

«I really don’t know whether they are all about the politics or not. It is clear though that with 300 cars at work in Vilnius Yandex taxi could be a major market player. Why the Latvians and the Estonians consider that Yandex.Taxi app does not pose risks to personal data and we, Lithuanians, believe it does, is also unclear to me,» Michail Zbarazskij, chairman of the association of taxi drivers in Klaipeda, told BNN.

A taxi driver in Palanga, who wanted to go only by his name «Antanas», said that where Russia goes, a trouble comes.

«Said that, I have to add that the officials on both sides of the border (i.e., in Lithuania and Russia) adhere only to politics, there is little rationale in actions sometimes,» he insisted to BNN. «I reckon eavesdropping is spread as never before. Even our conversation can be insecure.»

First it was Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius who last week asked the State Security Department (VSD) and the Competition Board to say whether the Russian tax-hailing app is in line with Lithuanian law.

The former responded that the National Threat Assessment 2018 report has paid attention to the finding that Russia’s intelligence and security services (RISS) are legally authorised and technically capable to gain access to the data of Russian and foreign citizens who use Russian social network platforms.

«The threat of personal data leakage to RISS is relevant to all individuals including foreign citizens who use Russian social networks and email services, such as odnoklasniki, mail.ru, yandex etc,» it reads.

The Yandex.Taxi app was launched in Vilnius last week. The company’s representatives say it has 300 cars in the Lithuanian capital.

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 on March 15, and during the first month 50,000 people used the service in the capital of Latvia.

Yandex Taxi is said to be active in 300 cities of ten countries worldwide. Yandex.Taxi says that it is an international company registered in Amsterdam, although its IT specialists are based in Moscow.

Its app works on a similar principle as Uber or Taxify.

The Yandex Taxi service comes in two different price classes: Comfort and Economy. The Comfort tariff applies to D and Superior Class vehicles, whereas the Economy tariff applies to B and C Class vehicles.

In the Economy class, the starting fee will not exceed one euros, which includes 0.5 kilometres of ride and five minutes of wait. The maximum fare per kilometre is 0.55 euros.

From May 1 to 20, Yandex Taxi offered a discount of 50 percent, but no more than 3.5 euros per ride, to all users in Tallinn paying by card.

The application is available in Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian for both Android and iOS. Overall, the Yandex.Taxi application has been translated into 15 languages.

Unlike other similar services, Yandex.Taxi informs the user about the price of the ride immediately after the address of the place of departure and the address of the destination have been entered. The fare will not change also when the ride takes longer than originally estimated as a result of congestion.

«Our service takes into consideration the traffic situation in route planning, and will search for a new order for the driver in the area where they are taking the passenger. Technologies like this reduce the costs of a trip: the drivers will earn more and the users will pay less,» Aram Sargsyan, director for international strategy at Yandex Taxi, is quoted by media as saying.

The Russian-owned ride-sharing service provider says that it keeps to data protection rules and is ready for any checks by Lithuanian authorities.

The comment came after the Lithuanian National Cyber Security Centre warned on Monday, July 30, against using the Yandex.Taxi application, saying that it could be unlawfully collecting user data.

The company said that Dutch-registered Yandex.Taxi BV, which administers the app, complies with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

«Client data security is the top priority. Yandex.Taxi app is provided by EU-based company Yandex.Taxi BV, registered in the Netherlands. 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.

She added that Yandex.Taxi is open to all the necessary checks and inspections.

She emphasised that it uses functions available in the users’ mobile devices such as access to GPS data in order to locate the client hailing the taxi.

Access to clients’ private information is controlled by the developers of Android and iOS operating systems and it cannot be forwarded to third parties, so these allegations have no grounds, according to her.

Chiming in, PM Saulius Skvernelis also advised Lithuanians not to use the Yandex.Taxi ride-sharing application.

«These risks have been identified: excessive, unnecessary data are collected. My advice would be not to use it,» Skvernelis said.

Meanwhile, Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius turned not only to the State Security Department regarding the use of the contentious app in Vilnius, but also to the Competition Council over Yandex.Taxi’s possibly misleading advertising.

The municipality says Yandex.Taxi’s advertising, spread via various channels, says the company will provide taxi services, which is also stated in the company’s name, but the company has not asked Vilnius authorities for a taxi license.

«We are asking to launch an investigation into an alleged violation of Article 5 of the Law on Advertising, introduce interim measures and order to halt the spread of advertising violating the provisions of the Law on Advertising,» the mayor letter reads.

The mayor also informed the Competition Council that an outdoor advertising billboard belonging to ETN Baltic will start broadcasting an allegedly misleading Yandex.Taxi advertisement as of Wednesday, July 1. The municipality has already warned the company about that.

To remind, last year, Yandex and Uber announced the creation of a joint venture in Russia and some other former Soviet republics. Uber invested 225 million dollars and Yandex 100 million dollars in the joint venture.


Leave a reply

  1. Zerry says:

    Latvia has so large population from eastern Finland (Russia) that desicion makers are slightly incompetent of willing to do something – if there are problems witg Yandex.

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