State Privacy Laws Fail to Keep Up with Ingenious Violators

Don Tennant

I'm no privacy fanatic, not by a long shot. But recently reported shenanigans of the auto-financing industry are giving even me the willies.


According to a Computerworld article by security reporter Jai Vijayan, who picked up on a story first reported last week by the Bangor Daily News, at least one major auto-financing company wants to start implanting GPS devices in the cars it finances. The idea is to provide credit risk information to lenders in the secondary finance market who buy the loans from the primary lender. For example, if the driver of the vehicle can be tracked as traveling to and from a particular location at the beginning and end of the workday, he can be presumed to be holding a full-time job, which is important information for lenders to have.


This all came to light when the auto-financing company contacted William Lund, superintendent of Maine's Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, to find out whether implanting the devices would violate Maine's consumer credit laws. What's disturbing isn't just that the lending company would ask, but that Lund's answer was no.

Lund did not disclose the name of the company. But he described it is a national firm that is probably making the same inquires in other states as well. Despite the potential privacy implications, there is no Maine privacy or credit law that prohibits this sort of GPS tracking, he said. "It seems to me that once this data is gathered and complied and stored, that it is available for uses other than the uses it was intended for," Lund said. Lund said the auto financing company has indicated that it will disclose to all consumers its use of GPS tracking devices on the vehicles it finances. But even if the company does include the disclosure in a financing contract, the chances of consumers actually noticing it are going to be small, he said.

There are two key bits of information to take away from all of this. First, you'd be well advised to read the fine print in the pages and pages of legalese that make up the next auto-financing contract you sign. Second, Maine probably isn't the only state whose privacy laws aren't keeping up with the ingenious methods people and companies are able to come up with to violate our privacy. Forewarned, as they say, is forearmed.

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