by Sarah Johnson

Speed Trap: Limitations on GPS Data and Consumer Privacy

Feb 15, 20022 mins
MobileSmall and Medium Business

While driving from Connecticut to Virginia in a rented van in October 2000, James Turner got busted for speeding. He wasn’t pulled over and didn’t receive a ticket, but his debit card was charged $450.

While tracking Turner’s travels through several states, a GPS device installed in the car recorded each time he drove more than 79 mph for at least two minutes. With each occurrence, AirIQ?a Toronto-based wireless ASP that installs and monitors the devices?sent a fax to Acme, Turner’s New Haven, Conn.-based rental car company, which subsequently charged his debit card $150. Turner claimed he hadn’t seen the clause in his rental contract that said “Vehicles driven in excess of posted speed limit will be charged $150 per occurrence. All our vehicles are GPS equipped.” As a regular customer of Acme who had seen the contract before, he didn’t feel a need to read it over. He went to small claims court hoping to recoup his money.

The result has been 15 minutes of fame for Turner (including appearances on CNN, Dateline, Good Morning America, MSNBC and the Today show,) and a yearlong case that now sits in the hands of the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection. A simple contract dispute has turned into a debate over what limits?if any?should be placed on the uses of GPS technology and what rights?if any?companies have to monitor their customers.

Attorney Bernadette Keyes, who represents four consumers including Turner, claims the devices are an invasion of privacy and their use violates the state’s Unfair Trade Practices Act. “There’s got to be full disclosure as to how this technology can be used.” says Keyes. On the orders of the Department of Consumer Protection’s commissioner, Acme modified its contract to make the clause about the GPS devices more explicit.

After a 1999 speeding accident raised its insurance premiums, Acme was easily won over by the promises of GPS. Whether it can continue using the devices is up to the state. Max Brunswick, Acme’s attorney, says he would appeal a cease-and-desist ruling. “There’s nothing unfair or deceptive about using these devices,” he says.