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E-scooters can be hacked. Here’s what companies are doing about it.

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Everything's fine and dandy until a scooter gets hacked.
Everything’s fine and dandy until a scooter gets hacked.

Image: gotcha

It seems almost too easy to steal an electric scooter. 

They’re light, only about 30 pounds, and usually aren’t locked to anything, so you can simply lift them and throw them in your car. As long as you don’t try to ride one while locked, the . And a recently spread on Twitter, showing people how a $32 kit from China could be used to rejigger a $500 scooter from Bird into your own personal vehicle.  

So why don’t scooter companies seem worried?

E-scooters aren’t impenetrable, as chargers (independent contractors paid by scooter operators to collect and charge the vehicles at home) and hackers know. A few months ago, Mel Magazine went deep into the world of scooter hacking and charger fraud. 

Here’s why e-scooter operators aren’t that concerned. Bird and Lime are valued at $2 billion and $1.1 billion, respectively. Each scooter brings in about $15 a day and the Xiaomi scooters themselves are around $500 for a single scooter, not taking into account any bulk discounts or partnership deals, city fees, maintenance costs, scooter lifespan, and other expenses. 

Yes, scooter maintenance is costing companies — reportedly some scooters only last two months. Vandalism and theft don’t help business either. In San Francisco, Scoot saw 200 of its scooters taken within two weeks of launching in mid-October, according to the Wall Street Journal. Scoot only has 650 scooters allowed in the entire city. 

Still, the scooters pay for themselves pretty quickly. The cost of vandalized, stolen, or hacked scooters hasn’t been enough to derail the convenient pick-them-up-and-drop-them-off-anywhere system. And scooter companies have some tricks up their sleeves.

Bird no longer uses the model hacked apart in the post, but the company knows its vehicles are targets. It likened vehicle vandalism and manipulation to “breaking windows in your neighborhood.” In an email statement, a company spokesperson said, “We hope that when people see available Birds, they are mindful of friends and neighbors who rely on these vehicles to get to work on time or make it to their next appointment.” 

Bird said they were “aware of recent posts encouraging others to destroy Birds” and that they were taking “necessary actions.”

Lime said it’s not aware of any hardware takeovers, but its scooters are fairly customized, unlike the Xiaomi scooter Bird, Spin, Lyft, Goat, Scoot and other companies use or previously used. 

“Unlike other companies, Lime makes its own customized scooter model, which means if someone tried to take a part off of our scooter, it would not fit on any other model. Because all our scooter parts are custom-sized and designed, they have zero resale value,” a Lime spokesperson said.

The more customized the scooter, the more difficult they are to hack and steal — at least that’s the logic. 

Gotcha, which operates e-scooters and e-bikes at college campuses and cities, said their scooters haven’t been hacked yet. As CEO Sean Flood said in a call, his company is more concerned about hackers getting user information and data. 

“We design the products from the wheels up,” Flood said. “Consumers can’t buy ours on Alibaba or somewhere similar.” 

A Scoot spokesperson also said its proprietary design prevents hardware hacks, especially now that it’s trying out locks for scooters to clear up sidewalks and discourage any would-be thieves.

There are other ways to get a free ride. A quick Google search for “Bird scooter hacks” brings up multiple YouTube videos, including this popular trick that involves lifting the scooter off the ground. 

For people who don’t actually want to maintain and store their own personal scooter, it’s an easier way to scam the system. But new Bird models look like they’ve countered the hack. Then there are the more creative “retrofits,” which aren’t so much hacking as completely repurposing the scooters. 

At least hacking scooters takes some skill and handiwork. There’s an Instagram account, , devoted to the untimely deaths of scooters thrown off parking structures and dumped in lakes. Pointless destruction is a lot easier than rewiring and hacking the devices. No matter the tricks Bird and Lime add to their next generations of scooters, there’s no hardware or software update to stop scooter killing.

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