24 hour GPS tracking: Insurers’ eye on Aussies’ cars


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blog In an ideal world dreamt up by insurance firms, everything you do would be tracked. Every time you got ill, your health insurance firm would determine precisely how that bug entered your oesophagus. Worker’s compensation insurers would have access to comprehensive footage of your workplace accident. And travel insurers would be monitoring your nights out with those Irish backpackers. The end result, of course, would be to determine how fundamentally everything was ultimately your fault and why you should have to pay a higher premium — or why your little accident wouldn’t be covered under your policy.

Sounds a bit far-fetched, right? Wrong. On Reckoner (we recommend you click here for the full article, it’s very well-written) Anthony Agius catalogues how insurer QBE has recently launched a product in Australia that directly tracks everything you do with you car, and the rather obvious privacy challenges that are already evident. A sample paragraph:

“That’s the extent as to something specific they log, and according to this statement, all they’re logging is your location. But how often is your location logged? Is it every second, every 10 minutes? Twice a day? Is this all they’re logging? Insurance Box doesn’t specifically say that location data is the only thing logged – just that it is something they log. Maybe they’re logging other stuff too, but just include it under a catch all “electronic data feed” term.”

Increasingly, it feels as though if you want to keep your privacy intact — from insurance firms, from your bank, from your telecommunications company, from casual searches of your telephone calls conducted by lazy law enforcement agencies — you need to make an active attempt to keep that privacy intact. Privacy is no longer a default standard in our society. It’s more than a little disturbing when an insurance firm who wants to track your car’s movements won’t disclose precisely what data they’re keeping on you or how it’s used. But then, perhaps that’s just 2013. Or is it 1984?


  1. We’ve done a fair bit of work with fleet management systems. If the unit is only a GPS device, all they can figure out is:

    * location
    * a rough idea of speed – (time between two GPS points) – but it is not ‘admissible’ as the speed the vehicle was travelling, as there are too many factors involved, including satellite drift.
    * general direction of travel – (angle between two GPS points)

    Very little else that they can determine. If however, the unit connects to the vehicle bus – (OBD2, J1785, J1939) – they can determine pretty much anything. Speed, engine revs, throttle percentage.

    Everything really.

    It’s not strictly legal to have an OBD2 session open while the vehicle is in motion – (though people do do it) – but the later standards such as J1785 and J1939 don’t have this problem – and they are the standards that will allow the most data to be sucked out of the onboard computer in the car.

    Not only would they know your speed with about 99.9% accuracy, having access to other diagnostic information can tell them if you’re getting your car serviced regularly or not, whether or not you’re thrashing the engine, if you’re doing burnouts, etc, etc…

    The data you can get out of a J1939 interface in particular is staggering.

    If they are connected to the car’s electronics in any way, it’s almost certain they are logging this kind of stuff.

    • GPS is one of the most accurate ways of tracking the speed of a car. If you look at a highway patrol , their speedos have a sticker on them that says, speed is uncalibrated and they have a another display showing their speeding using GPS. If you use a navigation GPS while they don’t refresh quickly, the speed they indicate is very accurate. Planes also track their speed using GPS (they have multiple speed indicators).

      • Planes only track their ‘estimated’ speed using GPS reactively.. ie: after the event and used to display it for in-plane customer displays or as a course correctors for auto-pilots. For true and actual speed they use a wide range of methodology that has NOTHING to do with satellites and all to do with other more highly accurate navigational calculations and devices..

        As for tracking a car’s speed.. Again it’s after the fact not during and as Michael states it is unreliable evidence in a pure evidential based court case since it is highly subjective due to other variables with satellite drift being just one of the many variables that are unknown Also at issue are what type of GPS, polling times, were their obstructions ie: tall buildings or tunnels, Accuracy (its L1 GPS mostly at >15metres and not normally DGPS), and if you made any turns greater than 90degrees before refresh occurred.

      • I didn’t say it wasn’t ‘accurate’, I said it wasn’t ‘admissible’ as evidence.

        Consider –

        If you’re travelling in the left hand lane on a three-lane road, going forward at 100km/h, that’s 27.7777778 metres per second. If the GPS puts you at one point at a polling interval, and 1 second later it has you 27.7777778 metres further up the dead straight road, it will indeed calculate you as travelling at 100km/h.

        If you change lanes, your physical speed may still be exactly 100km/h, but the distance between the two GPS points is likely slightly further, so when the distance between the two GPS points is calculated, you might come up at 101km/h.

        Even slight satellite drift can introduce minor inaccuracies in GPS location, which will again affect the calculated speed between two GPS points.

        GPS speed calculations are very accurate, as you say – but if you’re talking about proving the speed, GPS speed calculations have been shown not to stand up in court, as some doubt is introduced. Take it from me, we build these sorts of systems, and you’d be surprised at the variations that can come up.

        GPS signals can also be affected by EM interference, which can also distort positioning information.

        In a perfect lab environment, GPS signals are supremely accurate. In the real world, lots of little things introduce enough error to make proving GPS speeds as “real and accurate” problematic at best.

        • GPS units do not measure speed by calculating distance and dividing by time for “instantaneous” measurements. The position calculations are way too inaccurate for that. (A 5m inaccuracy in position leads to a 10m uncertainty in distance travelled which makes your calculated speed very inaccurate.) They use Doppler shift on the signals from the satellites to give a quite accurate measurement of short-term speed, and it is my understanding that that speed is fed back into the calculations for position. My old, cheap GPS unit claims an accuracy in speed of better than 0.05m/s (about 0.2 km/hr).

          If the distance you travel in a second when changing lanes is more than 27.7777778m in a second, then your speed is indeed more than 100km/hr. There is nothing in road regulations that says your speed is calculated in the direction of the road rather than the direction you are travelling, which will be different when you are changing lanes.

      • Anecdotally, I have used three different GPS systems in my cars to provide real – time speed display (well, as fast as the units will update, anyway) because the most comfortable steering wheel position always seems to result in obscuring of dash instrumentation (ie I can’t see the speedo). With all three systems I have found them to be generally indicative without being reliably accurate – travelling along at a steady 100km/hr (steering wheel up so I can see the dial cluster) it is common to see the GPS jump up to 104/105km/hr or down to 95km/hr occasionally, and infrequently read more than 10km/hr out. Usually this is most common with some cloud cover, but a couple of times I’ve noticed significant deviation with 12 or more satellites connected during a clear day.

        So I still use it because it is helpful, but I’ve also worked out how to judge speed by the position of the needle on the lower surface of the dial even though I can’t see the numbers.

  2. Or you could be one of us kinds of people who have a car with no computer system on board at all :)

    I like my GQ Patrol (Diesel model), no ECU or any major electronic things like that which can go wrong, about the most they could track is my location, how fast i was going and yeah.

  3. pppffftt, google is tracking everyone’s android phone or tablet today, so they know where you are, and where you slept and where you shopped and how fast you were driving your car, etc, etc etc. You don’t even need to have the GPS turned on!

    Checkout googles “Android Device Manager” if you don’t believe big brother has known what you have been doing without your knowledge for a long time.

  4. I got QBE to quote on my insurance. It was ONLY 50% MORE expensive than AAMI!! what a fail

  5. Indeed, its an useful device but we cannot fully rely on these devices always because they don’t give correct directions always.

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