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Your driving could be monitored by popular apps

Millions of people rely on smartphone apps to keep an eye on their children, locate the cheapest nearby gas station, learn the week’s weather forecast, or even simply listen to music—but before doing so, app makers generally require their users to agree to lengthy terms and conditions. And as a June 9 report from The New York Times details, these privacy policies can include stipulations that allow third-party data brokers to use your smartphone sensors to amass driving data that can be used to later influence auto insurance premiums.

Your tendency to slam on the brakes, your driving speeds, your commute schedule, and even your location down to the longitude and latitude coordinates are all collected as bulk remote vehicular behavior info, or telematics. This data is then sometimes utilized to potentially affect a customer’s little-known “driver score” that can affect insurance premiums and offers. Safer drivers theoretically can receive better premium rates while incentivizing others to operate vehicles more responsibly, but this only works if drivers are aware they are being monitored. And as The New York Times reports, people haven’t knowingly consented to this access in the first place.

[Related: Your car could be capturing data on your sex life.]

The newest look into the nebulous world of privacy policy focuses on one data analytics company in particular, Arity. Arity bills itself as a service allowing clients like MyRadar, GasBuddy, Life360, and SiriusXM to “reach app users at the right time,” “improve the user experience,” and “drive revenue.” But in order to do so, these companies often need to supply Arity with an app user’s telematics—and it just so happens that Arity was founded back in 2016 by Allstate, who now pays their subsidiary for access to much of that very same data. This means many users are now receiving rate adjustment offers or special discount advertisements from their auto insurers based on information they didn’t know the company possessed.

“Arity has over 40 million (and growing) active connections to US drivers, who have opted into sharing their data with us through consumer mobile apps, in-car devices, and connected cars,” states an Arity blog post from February. “With our connections, auto insurance marketers can programmatically segment and target drivers based on factors” such as how risky or safely they drive, their mileage, and “how likely they are to churn.”

GasBuddy’s Drives feature, for example, is “powered by Arity” and rates a user’s fuel efficiency. In order to enable Drives, GasBuddy users must agree to share “certain information” with Arity along with agreeing to Arity’s own, separate privacy statement without further elaboration. A similar situation occurred for a mother of twins who subscribed to Life360’s $100 annual plan, which allowed her to track their locations using their smartphones. When she inquired to Life360 to ask if it sold their driving data to a third-party, an auto-response “crafted with the help of AI” confirmed the partnership with Arity.

There are potential benefits to allowing hyper-focused analysis of a driver’s habits. Insurance rates generally rely on a broad spectrum of demographic and socio-economic factors like gender, marital status, age, location, and credit history. Without access to detailed telematics, it could be difficult to provide fairer, individualized insurance plans. At the same time, however, even these supposedly improved systems could yet again negatively affect historically disenfranchised people. But underlying all this is the issue of consent and whether third-party app users are even aware just how much personal information is available to companies at any given time.

Popular Science reached out to SiriusXM and Arity for confirmation on what data is provided between the two companies, as well as how it is specifically utilized. They did not respond at the time of writing.

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