Wednesday , May 29 2024
In the near future, many cars will be fitted with telematic devices that record and send detailed data about the car's usage.

Are Car Tracking Devices an Assault on Privacy?

car tracking devicesThere’s an old saying which in the 20th century could easily have been revised to “a man’s car is his castle.” In the 21st century, we have to ask if a man’s car is still his castle if his insurance company installs tracking devices in it to calculate his insurance rates. That’s the question being asked by insurance companies, privacy attorneys and advocates, and individual car owners: Even if an insurance company can calculate a premium with incredible precision based on your driving habits, does that ability give them (and related third parties) too much power? Are car tracking devices an assault on privacy?

Calculating Car Insurance

Today, car insurance rates are calculated based on a variety of factors that give an insurance company an idea of what kind of driver a customer will be: their driving record; their credit score; their earnings bracket; marital and family status; how much, and how far, they estimate they will drive.Time magazine found that men are likely to be charged more for insurance because of the perception that men are more aggressive drivers than women, for example.

But those metrics may not present a whole picture to insurers, who want to know as much as possible about a driver (and his or her habits) before quoting a rate. Drivers may falsify information in order to receive a lower insurance premium, or their circumstances might change after a rate has been set. In the near future, an insurance company might be able to get as complete a picture as possible of their drivers, but it may come at the cost of trust and privacy.


If some insurers have their way, cars will be fitted with telematic devices that record and send data about the car’s usage: how often it is driven; the time of day the car is driven; average speeds; how often it is serviced; and, in the event of an accident, the details surrounding the collision. Insurers will have all the information they could need to determine which customer gets which rate – or if a customer is eligible for a rate at all. By 2017, 50% of cars will have telematic devices installed in them.

Privacy and Telematics

There are laws regarding how much information insurers can access about a driver’s habits, but privacy advocates worry that if drivers opt in to a program that promises discounted premiums in return for more data, insurance companies will gain access to more data about drivers than is legally (or even ethically) necessary.

By law, insurance companies are forbidden from sharing data with marketers and unrelated third parties. But watchdogs wonder what would happen if driving data obtained via telematics was subpoenaed for a divorce trial, perhaps, or if the data is compromised and falls into unintended hands. The American Civil Liberties Union points out that, under the terms of the Patriot Act, the FBI can seize telematics data as part of an investigation.

For example, “locational privacy” is considered by the American Civil Liberties Union as “the most sensitive piece of driver information.” Should an insurance company know what businesses a customer frequents? Would an insurance company place a higher premium on a driver who visits a mosque?

Safety, Data and Privacy

Insurance companies and car manufacturers tout the long list of benefits and advantages telematics bring – encouraging safer driving, saving customers money, and, when necessary, aiding law enforcement in determining culpability for road accidents and traffic violations.

However, there is an incredibly strong potential for the technology to be abused, either wittingly or otherwise, to extract excessive amounts of information about the personal lives of drivers – who, per a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, should be able to expect a reasonable degree of privacy in their vehicles.

About Jessica McMohen

Jessica is an independent journalist, freelance blogger, and technology junkie with a passion for music, arts, and the outdoors.

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