Originally published August 21 2014
Researchers prove your car can be tracked using just your starting location and driving speed
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) Technology has definitely improved society, and in this Information Age in which we live, technology will only continue to make life simpler and much more enjoyable.
But not everything has improved with technology. In fact, technology has made some things infinitely worse, like protecting our privacy in this digital age.
Our privacy has been invaded by agencies like the NSA and FBI, for sure, but in many cases we are voluntarily allowing it to be circumvented. One way, according to researchers from Rutgers, is by allowing automobile insurance companies to bribe us into letting them monitor our driving habits.
Bribing us to allow our privacy to be invaded
By offering discounts on premiums, auto insurers "convince" drivers to let them keep track of where they are driving, what time they are driving and other intimate details.
"What these drivers may not know is that they could be revealing where they are driving, a privacy boundary that many would not consent to cross," says a press release from Rutgers, citing the university's new study. Continuing, the press release said:
A team of Rutgers University computer engineers has shown that even without a GPS device or other location-sensing technology, a driver could reveal where he or she traveled with no more information than a starting location and a steady stream of data that shows how fast the person was driving.
But then, insurers and customers alike have incentive to monitor driving speeds, according to Janne Lindqvist, an assistant professor in Rutgers' Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Drivers who avoid jackrabbit starts and sudden stops are usually lower-risk, so insurers will reward them -- only after the driver installs a device in his or her vehicle that allows the company to continually monitor, record and report their speeds.
"The companies claim this doesn't compromise privacy, because all they are collecting is your speed, not your location," said Lindqvist, who is also a member of the university's Wireless Information Network Laboratory, or WINLAB. "But we've shown that speed data and a starting point are all we need to roughly identify where you have driven."
Reproducing an exact driving path from the very limited and basic information gathered by the insurers is a challenge -- and it is certainly not as precise as, say, cellular signal tracking or GPS. But with the researchers' approach, sometimes just a single drive is enough to reveal where a person has gone or is located within a third of a mile or less.
'They should not say their collection is privacy preserving'
Dubbed "elastic pathing," the technique can predict pathways by seeing how speed patterns match up to street layouts:
Take for example, a person whose home is at the end of a cul-de-sac a quarter mile from an intersection. The driver's speed data would show a minute of driving at up to 30 miles per hour to reach that intersection. Then if a left turn leads the driver to a boulevard or expressway but a right turn leads to a narrow road with frequent traffic lights or stop signs, you could deduce which way the driver turned if the next batch of speed data showed a long stretch of fast driving or a slow stretch of stop-and-go driving. By repeatedly matching speed patterns with the most likely road patterns, the route and destination can be approximated.
Lindqvist did not claim that auto insurers are actually processing data to reveal driver locations. And the techniques used by him and his colleagues are in the early stages of development and are not very obvious to implement. Also, he says, insurance companies would not likely benefit from knowing location information, especially if it cost a great deal to obtain.
Nevertheless, he says it is possible that law enforcement agencies might be able to subpoena the information and run these kinds of complex analyses if they want to learn where someone has driven.
"I'm not saying that insurance companies should not monitor speeds like this," he said. "I'm just saying that they should not imply that their speed data collection is privacy preserving. In any case, collecting just speed data compared to GPS data is a better practice since the locations are not directly available."
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