Data Collection for Traffic Avoidance Systems

Technology Review has a new article on traffic avoidance systems, focusing on the software firm Inrix, who is working towards better methods of forecasting traffic congestion “hours and even days in advance.” Its interesting stuff, but this passage is somewhat troublesome:

The Inrix software starts with a mass of data obtained from government agencies — real-time traffic flow and incident information from gadgets installed on highways, including toll-tag readers, cameras, radar units, and magnetic sensors embedded in the pavement. Inrix then adds speed and location data from computers and Global Positioning System (GPS) units in vehicles owned by trucking and delivery companies. These vehicles effectively act as mobile sensors, and Inrix buys the data they collect. Finally, Inrix adds up to two years of historical traffic flow data, weather forecasts and conditions, and even local road construction schedules, school calendars, and dates of events like concerts and athletic contests.

One wonders if the data being passed to this private company from government agencies has been anonymized. Does the data from automated toll collections sytems allow the identification of individual vehicles? Hopefully not. And do users of such systems know that this data might be shared with non-government entities? Perhaps these privacy concerns have been addressed in how the data is shared, but if not, the aggregation and sharing of traffic data might represent another threat to one’s privacy on the roads.

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