60-Second Tech

Your Driving Data Can Reveal Your Routes

Using data about when you drive, the times of your starts and stops, and your speed, insurance companies may be able to also tell where you go, even without GPS. Larry Greenemeier reports


Insurance companies have for years offered a compelling tradeoff to their customers: they track your driving habits, you save up to 30 percent off your bill for driving safely. But researchers now say that consumers may be giving up too much privacy in the deal.
If you install the tracking device in your car, insurers like Allstate and Progressive can gather information about when you drive, your starts and stops and your speed.
To avoid spooking customer fears about Big Brother, most of these devices do not include GPS. But computer scientists say they don’t need GPS to get a pretty good idea of where you’ve been.
In separate experiments, researchers at the University of Denver and Rutgers University wrote algorithms that use a driver’s starting point along with the tracking data to estimate where that driver traveled. [Rinku Dewri et al., Inferring Trip Destinations From Driving Habits Data and Bernhard Firner et al., Elastic Pathing: Your Speed is Enough to Track You]

Are drivers worried their data could be used as evidence in criminal investigations or to catch philandering spouses? Nah. Surveys find that most people think highly of their skills behind the wheel. And they’d rather cut their rates than keep their privacy.

—Larry Greenemeier

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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