Attention tailgaters: Someday a bank or a potential employer considering your loan or your job application might become privy to your tendencies for aggressive driving.
Northbrook-based Allstate, which last month floated the idea of one day selling the information it collects from policyholders' connected cars, was issued a patent earlier this month for a driving-behavior database that it said might be useful for health insurers, lenders, credit-rating agencies, marketers and potential employers.
Allstate's patent also said the invention has the potential to evaluate drivers' physiological data, including heart rate, blood pressure and electrocardiogram signals, which could be recorded from steering wheel sensors.
"George Orwell wrote this, right?" Bob Hunter, insurance director for Consumer Federation of America and a former Texas insurance commissioner, said after reviewing the patent, which he called "astonishing." Orwell is the author of "1984," a novel about people being monitored by Big Brother government.
"Why should Allstate know that a person has, say, atrial fibrillation?" Hunter said, noting that consumers might want to consider getting driving gloves.
Allstate's patent acknowledged that use of the data might be subject to terms of agreement with the operator of the vehicle.
In recent years, Allstate and other car insurers have introduced voluntary programs in which policyholders can have their driving monitored, typically through a device or a mobile app, in exchange for potential discounts. Instances of hard braking or of driving at night, for example, might lessen one's chance of a discount. Initially, the insurers assured customers that the programs didn't track location, which was of particular concern for privacy advocates and consumers.
The tenor has changed, however. Starting last year, some insurers' "usage-based" or "telematics" programs -- including those of Allstate and Progressive -- evolved to begin gathering once-taboo locations.
Allstate's patent also reflects the potential to use, mine and monetize Big Data. When Allstate last month mentioned it might sell policyholders' driving data, it held up Google as Exhibit A.
"There are a lot of people monetizing data today," Allstate Chief Executive Tom Wilson said at a conference. Searching on Google, for example, "seems like it's free, but it's not free," he said. "You're giving them your information, and they sell your information."
Wilson then raised the question of whether Allstate could or should "sell this information we get from people driving around to various people and capture some additional profit and, perhaps, give a better value proposition to our customers that we're not giving today?"
Allstate on Thursday pointed out that its patent for a "motor vehicle operating data collection and analysis" system was filed in 2013 and that related patents date to 2005. The timing between Wilson's comments last month and the June 9, 2015, stamping of the patent at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office was "coincidental," the company said.
"This is simply a continuation of a patent we've held for some time," Allstate spokesman Justin Herndon said Thursday. "Allstate is very proactive about managing its intellectual property rights to fully leverage innovation on behalf of our customers and ensure the best customer experience possible."
Most of the Allstate patent provides more detail on the company's potential vision for developing driver safety ratings based on such factors as vehicle speed, acceleration and adherence to stop signs. For example, operation of the vehicle without headlights and changes in vehicle direction without turn signals might be recorded.
Also, frequent changes in vehicle speed and braking might suggest aggressive driving like tailgating slower-moving cars, the patent said.
The recorded data could help the vehicle owner monitor the use of the vehicle by everyone from employees to family members, the patent said.
Drivers will be helped by getting feedback, Allstate said in its patent.
Others might also find the data useful, the company said.
"The recorded data may also provide an objective behavioral data collection system for third parties, e.g., health insurance companies, lending institutions, credit-rating companies, product and service marketing companies, potential employers, to evaluate an individual's behavioral characteristics in a real-life and commonly experienced situation, i.e., driving a motor vehicle," the patent said.
Changes in an individual driver's "profile" may suggest a change in lifestyle or employment, Allstate said in its patent.
"A pattern of aggressive driving may be correlated to 'risk taking' in other life or employment environments, including but not limited to spending and debt repayment," Allstate said in its patent.
An individual who is both a "prudent" driver and a "prudent" user of credit might be "part of an ideal target market of certain goods or services," it said.
Collecting, analyzing and sharing data on drivers would have precedent.
Speakers at insurance telematics conferences in Chicago in recent years have discussed the potential for a driver rating system similar to that used for credit scores, which are influenced by making payments on time.
Allstate's patent said other existing patents or patent applications "ignore the profound behavioral characteristics exhibited by drivers in operating motor vehicles, e.g. aggressiveness or patience, caution or recklessness, compliance with laws, etc."
"These characteristics are relevant to each individual's behavior in other situations, including performance of job duties, behavior in stress, and meeting obligations to others," the patent said. Allstate envisions the information being "uploaded to a central server to create a comprehensive database" that will "provide a useful service to society."
The patent also leaves open the possibility of recording data from cameras that are onboard, as well as any "driver physiological monitoring systems." The patent specifically mentioned "the recording and evaluation of driver physiological data, such as heart rate, electrocardiograph signals and blood pressure." For example, the patent said, electrocardiograph signals can be recorded from steering wheels with built-in sensors.
The patent gave little insight into how the physiological data would be used.
The invention, the patent said, would ideally collect data every two seconds.
Frederick Lane, a lawyer and author of "American Privacy: The 400-Year History of Our Most Contested Right," said Allstate's patent "covers the waterfront in terms of not just data collection but data integration," including marrying car-specific data to public databases of speed limits.
"It opens some disturbing possibilities," Lane said, noting that it reminds him of what municipalities are trying to do with red light cameras. "Will your car start snitching on you?"
The phrase "predictive modeling of future behavior" used in the Allstate patent also concerned Lane.
"It's well and good to collect data, but the question is what do you do with the data?" Lane said.
Among the questions raised by Lane: Might drivers who are found to exceed speed limits be charged more by rental companies? Might police departments be a potential buyer of the data?
The data could be recorded or transferred in many ways, including flash memory cards or through wireless technology. That data can then be transferred to another device, including a microprocessor linked to an Internet server, the patent said.
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