2010 Chevrolet MalibuEnlarge Photo
If you rent a car from Hertz, Avis, Budget, or Advantage, you might want to avoid running any red lights. If you do, and you get caught on camera, your credit card will get charged.
The rental companies give your data to a company called American Traffic Solutions. This company runs red-light cameras in some areas, and it uses the data to make sure the right driver is charged and fined when one of the cars is caught running a red light. It's not clear if ATS is accessing the data at all times or only when a driver is caught running a red light on camera.
The catch is that ATS automatically bills the accused customer's credit card, tacking a $30 processing fee on top. This makes it very difficult for customers to appeal the ticket, and even when customers do successfully appeal, they still have to fight the $30 fee.
This speaks to a larger problem, especially with Congress mandating that future cars be equipped with black boxes that can record accident data. With so much data being recorded about our personal lives, how do we know who's watching?
We've already heard of GPS systems being used to stalk lost loves, and while black-box data might be useful in cases such as the recent Toyota unintended acceleration flap, there is a concern that if data falls into the wrong hands, it can be misused.
In the rental car case, the problem isn't that the technology is busting violators, but that ATS can make determinations without due process, and that it can be difficult for those erroneously charged to get their money refunded. In some cases, ATS is the camera operator, which means they are both billing customers and issuing the tickets.
Thanks in part to Toyota's recall problems, black boxes are coming to all cars someday soon. But there are questions that need to be answered.
There's no doubt that technology such as GPS, video, and data recorders, can help make cars safer. But at what point does it become too much? At what point will consumers no longer accept a trade of privacy for security? How much data should be shared after an accident? Who should see such data? How can private information be kept out of the wrong hands?
What do you think? Weigh in below in the comments section.