Big Brother never sleeps.
The emergence over the past several decades of advanced new bite-size data-gathering devices has opened up a (sometimes frightening) world of potential for commercial organizations to collect and utilize information about private citizens, and naturally, the world of motoring is not exempt. The latest revelation comes in the form of a patent, issued to the Allstate insurance corporation, which would theoretically allow the company to gather data on the driving behavior of not only its own customers, but of surrounding traffic, as well.
That’s according to The Detroit News, which reports that the Allstate insurance company was granted the patent just last month. The patent more specifically pertains to a data server, which could accept real-time data provided by an array of cameras and sensors within the customer’s vehicle. The patent floats the idea of gathering intelligence such as the presence of distractions (pets, phone usage, unsecured objects), the presence and type of passengers (adult, teen, child), and as we mentioned, the behavior of neighboring vehicles.
In defense of Allstate insurance, the patent describes the intent of this last data type as rather benign. A portion of the text reads: “In a particular flow of traffic, if most or all of the cars are speeding, then it might be safer for a driver to drive within the flow of traffic than to drive at the speed limit. Similarly, an occurrence of sudden swerving or braking by a vehicle may indicate a high risk or unsafe driving behavior by a driver not paying attention to the road, but if many cars on the same road at or near the same time also brake or swerve suddenly,” that could indicate a road hazard, in which case such an evasive maneuver could hardly be faulted.
Nonetheless, such data gathering as that proposed by the Allstate insurance corporation is seen as invasive and potentially worrisome by many. Even if an Allstate insurance policy holder consents to such a program, that might not only leave that vehicle’s passengers still unaware that their presence is being monitored, but would also allow for the unannounced, invasive “spying” on other vehicles on the road without warning.
And of course, regardless of the effect on policy-holders’ pocketbooks, the myriad ways in which Allstate insurance – or any other provider – could package and profit off of the information is disconcerting.