Telematics and in-car cameras: Privacy versus opportunity

Telematics and in-car cameras: Privacy versus opportunity

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed new standards that would require providing a car’s driver with a full 180-degree field of vision of the rear of the car.
The proposed rear-visibility standard would require 100 percent of new vehicles to comply by September 2014.
The NHTSA noted that, in the near term, a rear-mounted video camera and an in-vehicle visual display would be the only way to comply with such a rule.
The cameras would be designed to eliminate blind spots behind cars that contribute to backover collisions.
If the standard is adopted, sales of new cars with rear-view park assist cameras in the US will quadruple during the next seven years compared to previous expectations, according to market research firm iSuppli.
iSuppli projects that from 2011 through 2017, 71.2 million new cars in the US will be sold with rear-view cameras if the NHTSA requirements are implemented.
The standard could provide opportunities throughout the telematics ecosystem, creating potential demand for new displays, software and interfaces, as well as camera hardware.

Video and vehicle data

Surveillance is another growth area for in-car cameras.
Research firm In-Stat forecasts that the total revenue from video surveillance hardware will approach $15 billion in 2014, with monitoring of traffic and public transportation contributing to that.
In the UK, fresh food delivery company Reynolds deployed the SmartDrive system in its fleet of delivery vans.
The SmartDrive Safety program uses in-vehicle recorders to capture both video and vehicle data, showing what happened during the 15 seconds before and after incidents like sudden stops, swerves, or collisions.
This data is downloaded wirelessly and sent to professional safety reviewers, who categorize and score the events.
Supervisors at Reynolds can then use these results to coach drivers, improving fleet performance and overall driving safety.
The strategy is similar to that used in ‘green fleet’ applications by companies including GreenFleet, NetworkFleet, and GreenRoad, which use the apps to change driver behavior and reduce fuel consumption.
(For more on apps designed to change driver behavior and reduce fuel consumption, see ‘How telematics can green the fleet’.)
But SmartDrive Systems’ addition of a video camera makes the monitoring more intrusive.

Privacy concerns

Independent lorry drivers may growl, but today’s workers should be prepared to give up privacy in some things, according to Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at The Cato Institute think tank.
“They have privacy about many things while they’re working, but they will appropriately give up privacy in other things,” Harper says.
For example, a worker coming into the workplace still maintains privacy in regard to the contents of his wallet but maybe not in regard to the content of his emails.
“It’s not a blanket right to privacy,” according to Harper.
He points out that, before cell phones, truck drivers used to go on the road without connection to the employer for hours at a time.
Today’s telematics applications not only let employers know where drivers are at all times but, with the addition of cameras, employers can see what they’re doing.
“You’ll have a natural reaction that my freedom and autonomy are being impinged by my employer getting to monitor me all the time,” Harper says.
“I think that’s an attitude that’s going to go the way of the dodo because of the technologies that are out there.”
With surveillance cameras becoming common in trains, subways, and busses, taxicabs are another growing market for in-vehicle telematics applications.
While there are acknowledged crime deterrent benefits to in-cab cameras, the privacy issues are more complex, Harper says, because there’s a third party involved: the passenger.
“In the future, you’ll have cameras and software that’s good at recognizing faces and could identify cab riders,” he explains.
Taxi companies will need to have policies and procedures in place to dispose of imagery; for example, if there was no crime in the cab that day, all digital files should be destroyed.
“The last thing you want is a permanent record of a person’s cab trips, who they sat with, and what they were doing,” he says.

Privacy pushback

Citizens already complain about the proliferation of surveillance cameras on city streets and in public venues.
In December, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania couple settled a lawsuit charging Google with trespassing.
Their suit said that the photo of their home appearing on Google’s Street View, for which vans drive around and snap photos of homes and businesses, could only have been taken if Google’s driver had ventured up a private road.
The judge who handled the settlement said the couple had not proven any distress, awarding the pair just $1.
Still, the couple told news organizations they believed they had set an important precedent.
But Mark Boyadjis, infotainment analyst for iSuppli, says that most consumers will accept monitoring if it’s worth their while.
He points out that insurance companies are rolling out monitoring applications for drivers with the lure of better rates for better driving.
Progressive launched a new telematics program, Progressive Snapshot Discount, that determines the driver’s insurance rate by how much and how fast the car is driven.
The program employs a telematics device that plugs into the on-board diagnostic port of a policyholder’s car and delivers driving data wirelessly to Progressive.
In December, AllState launched DriveWise, a similar program.
(For more on telematics apps and insurance, see ‘Can telematics reinvent auto insurance?’.)
“In these products, there is a direct benefit for the consumer to give up privacy, and the direct benefit is cost savings and, in the case of a teen tracker, peace of mind,” Boyadjis says.
Still, he points out that these solutions employ a tiny telematics device that plugs into the car’s OBDII port.
“I’m not sure how big the market could be for camera-based solutions,” he says.
“Camera systems seem like a very expensive piece of hardware to put in there just for this type of purpose.”
The biggest area of opportunity, according to Boyadjis, is for applications such as geo-fencing, teen tracking, and distracted driving.
“Applications can help with all of those,” he says.
“So, there’s a very large market for that in the application side, which can lead to hardware sales as well.”

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

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