August 13, 2014
Safe Driver Discount Devices Could Be Used To Track A Driver’s Location
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Allowing insurance companies to monitor your driving habits in exchange for a discount on your premiums might sound like a tempting offer, but a team of Rutgers University computer engineers caution that entering into such an arrangement could grant those firms access to information you may not want them to have.
In research scheduled to be presented at the 2014 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp 2014) in Seattle next month, Janne Lindqvist, an assistant professor in the university’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and her colleagues report that drivers agreeing to be monitored could inadvertently be revealing where they are driving to.
Lindqvist’s team demonstrated that a driver could reveal their travel destination, even without having a GPS device or other location-sensing technology installed in their vehicles. All an insurance company would need is a starting location such as a home address and a steady stream of data showing how fast the person is driving.
The study authors note that both insurance companies and their customers have incentive to monitor their driving speeds, since drivers who avoid sudden starts and stops tend to be lower-risk drivers, and that type of behavior tends to be rewarded. As such, some firms are offering reduced premiums to customers who are willing to use a device that constantly measures, records and reports how quickly they are driving.
“The companies claim this doesn’t compromise privacy, because all they are collecting is your speed, not your location,” Lindqvist, who is also a member of the Rutgers’ Wireless Information Network Laboratory (WINLAB), explained in a statement Monday. “But we’ve shown that speed data and a starting point are all we need to roughly identify where you have driven.”
It is difficult to determine a person’s exact driving path using this limited amount of basic information, and the results tend to be less precise than using a GPS or cellular signal to track movement, the researchers explained. However, using a technique known as “elastic pathing,” the Rutgers team stated that it is possible to accurately pinpoint a person’s destination to within one-third of a mile, sometimes with just one journey.
Elastic pathing predicts the route a person has taken by matching speed patterns with street layouts, the university explained. For example, if a person lives at the end of a cul-de-sac one-fourth of a mile from an intersection, their speed data would show a minute of driving at speeds of up to 30 mph to reach the intersection.
Then, if a left turn leads them to an expressway or boulevard and a right turn leads them to a narrow road filled with stop signs or traffic lights, it would be easy to determine which direction the driver went based on whether their speed data showed a long stretch of fast driving or a slower stretch of stop-and-go driving. By matching speed patterns with the most likely road patterns, it is possible to approximate the route a person travels and their destination.
“Lindqvist doesn’t claim that insurance companies are actually processing the data to reveal locations,” the university said. “The techniques he and his colleagues are exploring are in their early stages and are not obvious to implement. Insurance companies likely wouldn’t benefit from knowing this information, especially if it is costly to obtain.”
However, he added that it was possible that law enforcement officials could subpoena this information and conduct these data analyses if they felt it necessary to learn where somewhat had driven to. Lindqvist also noted that he was not stating that insurance companies should not monitor speed data, only that they “should not imply that their speed data collection is privacy preserving.”