|| Big Brother Rent-A-Car
COMPANIES THAT TRACK YOU SHOULD TELL YOU WHEN THEY'RE DOING IT
Mercury News Editorial
April 19, 2004
You know, of course, that when you rent a car, your every move may be tracked.
You didn't know?
Well, neither do most rental car customers.
Which is why companies that track you, through car navigation systems and other technology, should tell you they're doing it. A bill written by East Bay Assembly member Ellen Corbett, AB 2840, would require them to do just that. Lawmakers who don't think this is a good idea are hereby eligible for a Big Brother award.
Location-tracking technology is everywhere -- in cars, in cell phones and in all sorts of devices equipped with GPS, or a Global Positioning System. It has plenty of good uses, from locating cell phone users calling 911, to helping you find your way around town, to tracking lost or stolen vehicles.
The technology also is handy for anyone intent on snooping. Employers use it to track employees -- in some cases, even after hours. Some rental car companies are the latest who can't seem to resist the temptation to spy on their customers.
They've used it to fine customers who drove out of state in violation of a rental agreement, even when the customer wasn't clearly told that the contract was for in-state use only. They've used it to fine customers who drove over a certain speed. Maybe that's what tracking technology provider AirIQ meant with a sales pitch to car rental companies that says: ``Generate additional revenue from cash rentals.''
Some rental car companies appear to be using the technology responsibly, only turning it on if a car is reported stolen, or allowing customers to turn it on and off as needed for navigation. Others are less scrupulous. Corbett's bill would bar rental car companies from using the technology to fine customers and from selling or sharing information collected by tracking systems.
Tracking technology raises societal and legal issues. How long is the information stored? What happens when law enforcement agencies subpoena it? What if a spouse subpoenas the records during a divorce? And what if a customer is denied service because last time she rented a car she drove to a high-crime neighborhood?
These questions require a thoughtful and thorough debate. In the meantime, rental car customers at least deserve the right to know if Big Brother Rent-A-Car is watching.
RENTAL CAR TRACKING FACTS
• Estimates suggest that about a quarter of rental cars in the U.S. are equipped with tracking technology.
• Customers of Payless Car Rental in San Francisco and Oakland were tracked electronically and fined between $786 and more than $3,000 for driving cars out of California, even though the customers say they were never told their contracts were for in-state use only.
• A customer of a Budget Rent a Car licensee in Tucson was also charged for driving out of state. The customer was allegedly told by Budget's employees, who tracked him electronically, what hotels he and his wife has stayed at.
• A rental car company in New Haven, Conn., imposed fines of $150 every time a customer drove over 79 miles an hour for at least two minutes. Regulators told the company to stop the practice and refund penalties.
Source: news reports.