End of Road-Going Anonymity

This Wired article by Keith Barry is a bit chilling. It is about a mobile app by Philip Inghelbrecht, one of the co-founders of Shazam.

Anyone can write a ticket, even pedestrians and cyclists. No one is safe from being tattled on. Even if you don’t use the program, which went live Wednesday, you can’t opt out of being flagged if someone thinks you’re driving like a schmuck. Inghelbrecht is emphatic in saying he sees no privacy issues with the app and insists the end of road-going anonymity can only improve safety.

No privacy issues, huh? That is just for starters–what about due process? Officially installed red-light and speed cameras face enough challenges, I can’t imagine that this system is going to survive any kind of serious complaint in court.

The legal ramifications aren’t the whole story, however. It’s the commercial applications that are even more troublesome.

Insurance companies rely on buying your driving record from your state’s motor-vehicle bureau, and they use predictive proxy data such as marital status, homeownership and ZIP code to determine your risk. Inghelbrecht sees insurance companies having great interest in a driver-behavior database that, if predictive of claims data, could help set rates.

Thankfully, insurers are a little more cautious. Barry spoke with a representative from Nationwide who raises concners around consistent definitions. The horror of individuals bent of gaming this app thankfully is apparent enough to invite some caution. Inghelbrecht seems non-plussed, breezily mentioning algorithms and eventually user feedback to address “noise” in the system.

Even if this effort stalls, the idea is out there. My fear is that competitors will crop up in short order, magnifying the wasp nest of privacy and liability issues introduced.

Big Brotheresque App Kills Your Automotive Anonymity, Wired

One Reply to “End of Road-Going Anonymity”

  1. It’s late and I haven’t thought deeply about this…hopefully these points are in some kind of logical order…

    1. With this app out there, you have no more or less anonymity than you had before – motor vehicles of almost all types operated on public roads have been required to have a license plate for a long time, which is in effect a unique identifier for that vehicle (*not* driver, which could be a problem) that anyone around you can see. This doesn’t change the anonymity, it changes the reportability of violations.

    2. 99% of drivers out there drive in a safe, sane manner (although generally not a completely legal manner). If this app gets the 1% of drivers that do not drive safely off the road by pricing them out of the insurance market, or by having their license revoked for reckless driving, without having them crash into something (potentially killing someone), then I would say that it is a net win for society.

    3. Yes, there is potential for abuse with the reporting function. However, if adoption is high enough, it should be possible to identify and disregard those people who are over-reporting, reporting the same car multiple times, et cetera.

    3A. One way to monitor for over-reporting and false positives is to send police officers to locations from which reports are regularly filed and confirm or refute the validity of the reports.

    4. Looks like it’s iPhone only. As I refuse to purchase Apple products for a number of reasons (which all of your readers and listeners are probably familiar with already – until such time as a version that runs on my phone (Android) is available, I won’t be using this app.

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