Getaround Car-Sharing App May Put Users at Risk for Theft

Street Justice Newsletter: Vol 2, Edition 13 (1/29/2020)

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Car-Sharing App Getaround May Put Users at Risk of Car Theft

On Monday 1/27, DC Police Sgt. Matthew Grabowski told ANC 4B (Takoma/Brightwood Park) that several Getaround customers have had their cars stolen. The car-sharing app sets up short-term car rentals by matching users — a car owner offering their vehicle for rental and a user looking to use a car.

Unlike Zipcar, the available cars are parked in non-designated spots where the owner can park. So, app users can find cars in on-street parking zoned for residential permits or in parking garages where the owner owns or rents a spot. Unlike Car2Go, Free2Move, or PenskeDash, Getaround cars are private vehicles — not part of a fleet maintained by the sharing company.

Sargeant Grabowski said the Police believe assailants are using the map of available cars to find easy targets. Once a user downloads the app and completes a short security check, they have access to a map of cars available for immediate rental. According to MPD, those offenders will break into the car, unlock it, and drive it away using the keys left inside for Getaround users. MPD did not respond to Street Justice’s request for comment and explanation as to why and how they think the app was used.

Getaround is not licensed to operate as a car-sharing service in Washington, DC. The company does not collect sales taxes applied to car rentals, according to customer receipts obtained by Street Justice. Getaround does not have a business license in DC. According to DC’s business license database, the following car-sharing companies are licensed in DC: Zipcar, Car2Go, PenskeDash, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and the now-defunct Maven.

According to neighborhood blog DCNorthStar, and confirmed by a Commissioner in attendance, Sgt. Grabowski said that MPD wants Getaround banned from operations in DC and has talked to DC’s registration and permitting agency DCRA, plus DC’s rental vehicle agency DFHV. However, it’s not clear whether car-sharing like Getaround would need to seek a permit from those agencies and/or DDOT. Free2Move, Zipcar, and Car2Go both received public space permits from DDOT. DC’s transportation agency did not respond to Street Justice questions.

When Getaround users set-up their cars for rental by others, the company installs a “Getaround Connect” device. The Connect is a GPS- and Bluetooth-enabled device which connects into the car’s OBD diagnostic port. The Connect enables “Enhanced Security” for owners, which disables the ignition unless the car has been rented on the mobile app. This feature may require connecting the Connect device into the main wiring harness under the steering column. However, devices such as the Connect can be defeated by disconnecting from the ignition relay and unplugged from the OBD port.

Gig and sharing economy services usually obscure the exact location of users and devices available for rental. Turo, the car-sharing app I’ve used, only gives the owner’s zipcode before they and the renter agree to a reservation. Rover, the dog-walking app I use to earn extra money, lists zipcode and neighborhood of both parties — only offering full address and entry instructions during the duration of a dog walking appointment with 30-minute leeway on either side. Shared scooter and bike services give users a detailed map of available vehicles, but those are fleet vehicles. Getaround’s insurance offered to car owners covers does not cover theft or damage incurred outside of a reservation window.

In response to Street Justice questions, Getaround Senior Project Manager Meghan Murray sent the following statement (emphasis ours):

“We have always taken vehicle security seriously, and designed our Connect hardware to not only enable peer-to-peer carsharing, but to also provide security features for owners when they share their car on our platform. In addition to real-time GPS tracking, we have developed immobilization features for every vehicle. Using the Connect’s Enhanced Security feature, any owner on our platform can choose to automatically immobilize their car’s starter outside of active Getaround rentals.”

“In addition to providing security features through our hardware, every Getaround renter must pass a thorough a trust and safety screening to verify their identity, and driving record. Our process involves 17 points of reference including social verification, and the Department of Motor Vehicles. While Getaround renters can browse available cars on a map, a car’s exact address and pickup instructions are not provided until a rental has been confirmed.”

“…Finally, for any incidents that occur outside of a Getaround rental, we encourage owners to work with local law enforcement agencies and our team is available to cooperate and provide information they may need to assist with any investigations.”

Getaround users offering their cars up to rent are not required to apply the “Getaround” window stickers offered to help car renters find vehicles. Such a visual cue may make it easier for assailants to identify a vulnerable car, once the app’s map brings them to within a block or two of its location. Car owners on Getaround are also not required to apply the starter immobilization feature. The company’s FAQ mentions locations with poor wireless connectivity (e.g., parking garages) may reduce the Connect device’s ability to correctly operate.

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Items Open for Public Comment

Events Calendar

⚠️ The full calendar is now a separate document linked below. ⚠️

[MD] Wed 1/29: Public Meeting for Capital Crescent Trail Tunnel in Bethesda (recently removed from County Executive Elrich’s proposed Capital Investment Plan) [Details]

[DC] Thurs 1/30 DC Council Annual Oversight Hearing for DC’s Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) ft. My Testimony for Greater Transparency and [Details]

[DC+Region] Thurs 1/30: National Park Service Quarterly Meeting, hosted by DC Del. Eleanor H. Norton [Details]

[✈️⚡🚗🚲] Sat 2/1 - Sun 2/2: Fully Charged Live North America (Austin, TX) — I’m speaking on a panel: “How is the US Doing on Clean Energy andTransport? [Details | Support my Travel Expenses with One-Time Donation] <— I could use a few more donations for Uber rides from hotel, airport food, etc.

[VA] Mon 2/3: Arlington County Bike Advisory Committee [Details]

[DC] Tues 2/4: Road to Zero National Stakeholder Coalition Meeting, hosted by the National Safety Council, ft. NHTSA, FHWA, & CDC [Details]

[DC] Tues 2/4: ANC 8A (Anacostia) [Details]

[DC] Wed 2/5: ANC 1C (Adams Morgan) ft. live-stream produced by Gordon Chaffin [Details]

[DC] Thurs 2/6: DC Council Annual Oversight Hearing for DC’s Department of Motor Vehicles, plus DC’s Deputy Mayor for Operations and Infrastructure [Details]

[VA] Sat 2/10: Annual Meeting of Active Prince William [Details]

[DC] Wed 2/19: DC Council Annual Oversight Hearing for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) [Details]

[VA] Wed 2/19: Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling [Details]

[DC] Thurs 2/20: Follow-Up Open House for DC Streetcar Expansion Eastward on Benning Road through Ward 7 [Details]

[DC] Wed 2/26: DC Council Oversight Hearing for the Executive Office of the Mayor Office of the City Administrator (chief opponents and saboteurs of the 9th Street NW cycletrack) [Details]