How Fast You Drive Reveals Where You Drive

By Willie Jones

Don’t believe the hype. Insurance companies wanting  information about what you do in your car say that they can’t use it to track your location. But a team of computer engineers at Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J., have shown that to be untrue. The engineers say they’ve figured out how to create a fairly accurate map of where a car has traveled based solely on where it started and a stream of data indicating how fast it has gone—no GPS or cellular triangulation is necessary.

You’ve probably seen the commercial: A woman dressed in white informs a pair of drivers that they can dramatically lower their auto insurance premiums by letting the company she represents gauge their driving habits. Safe drivers, we learn—well, not in the commercial itself, but in a quick read of the insurance company’s website—get a break on the cost of insuring their vehicles when they install a device that gives the insurance company access to the car’s onboard diagnostic (OBD-II) port. A wide array of information about a car’s performance, including speed, acceleration/deceleration, and engine rpm can be gleaned from there. This presents some obvious privacy concerns. After all, who would want to turn over access to a blizzard of information that could easily be used to track their movements anytime they hit the road or give the insurer ammunition it can use to deny a claim? …[Read more]