Then we discovered a 74-mile drive with several instances of travel over 70 miles per hour, two acts of sudden braking, and one act of very fast acceleration. And it was on a Sunday, when she was driving our daughter to camp. Whoops, actually I was driving that time. But you get the idea.
The CarChip is just one of a growing number of products that let us collect extraordinarily detailed data about the people we know and love–or work with. Memory chips are getting bigger, networks are becoming better connected, and sensors are becoming more accurate and affordable. And more and more products come with built-in tracking that’s turned on by default. If you don’t want your own belongings tracking your movements, it’s up to you to find out what they’re doing and make them stop.
For example, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 64 percent of the model 2005 cars sold in the United States were equipped with event data recorders (EDRs). Similar to the so-called black boxes in airplanes, these systems continuously monitor a variety of statistics and preserve their most recent readings if the vehicle crashes. According to the NHTSA, EDRs typically record “pre-crash vehicle dynamics and system status” (such as the car’s speed), “driver inputs” (the position of the steering wheel and throttle and whether the brake is engaged), the “vehicle crash signature” (the car’s change in velocity during a crash), and “restraint usage/deployment status” (how quickly the air bags were released). Consumers typically don’t get access to this information. Its purpose, instead, is to help industry and the government make cars and roads safer. Increasingly, it is being used in the courtroom as well.
The problem with these EDRs is that most drivers don’t know they’re there. This creates the risk that the information will only be used against you. For example, the police might pull the data from your EDR if they think it will prove you were speeding, but intentionally neglect to pull it if there is an eyewitness to testify that you were. That’s a problem, because observers who witness a messy crash might inadvertently exaggerate how fast a car was going. In two recently reported cases, EDRs have shown that cars were traveling slower than eyewitnesses thought.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center argued in 2004 that in addition to being informed about EDRs’ presence, car owners should be allowed to control whether the devices collect information and how that information is disseminated. This year the NHTSA issued a rule requiring that EDRs be mentioned in owner’s manuals and that they record a consistent set of data; but those rules won’t go into effect until 2010.
Cell phones are another great source of personal data. Sprint’s Family Locator service allows parents to see where their cell-phone-carrying children (or spouses) are. The system can also record a phone’s position at specified times or follow the phone and leave “bread crumbs” on an interactive map that’s viewable over the Web or from a Web-enabled phone.