Read the fine print when buying telematics apps

Steve Bouchard

MONTREAL, Que. — Who takes the time to read the fine print at the bottom of contracts? Not you? Me neither.

Vehicles generate a lot of data. Telematics systems know all of your drivers’ driving habits and maintenance practices, among other things.

But who owns this data? Are the users of the products fully aware of what they are accepting?

“You always have to ask yourself what data is used for,” warned Jacques DeLarochelliere of Isaac Instruments. (Photo: Isaac Instruments)

“You don’t have to look far into the future to see the effects collecting data will have on fleet management,” said a recent report from the Fleet Management Association (NAFA). “With telematics, fleet managers know if drivers are following their routes, accelerating, braking sharply, and idling the engine too often. Knowing these behaviors allows you to make informed decisions.”

“You always have to ask yourself what data is used for,” warned Jacques DeLarochelliere, president of Isaac Instruments, in his opening remarks at the company’s 2019 user conference.

“Some business models go beyond free. Companies charge for mining and use the data anyway. You have the copy you paid for, but the provider, who was paid to extract the data, still keeps it and monetizes it. He’s going to sell the information on top of getting paid to extract it.”

His advice: read the fine print when you buy an app.

DeLarochelliere returned to the subject in more detail at Isaac Instrument’s most recent 2020 User Conference.

“The value of a trucking business is made up of assets and operations, and operations include data, and it needs to be protected,” he said.

The data is generated by a multitude of sources: GPS, barcode reader, digital camera, document scanning, text messages, emails, etc.

“A whole set of objects and systems are constantly connecting and generating data. In transportation, we talk about dispatch systems, telematics/telemetry, maintenance software, cargo matching bulletins, navigation systems and imagery, among others.”

Your fleet’s data is very valuable and can be sold to third parties. This is called monetization.

“Data can be sold. Some generate the data, and others legally appropriate it for resale. Google and Facebook operate on this model,” said DeLarochelliere.

If you get something in return, sharing some of your data can be a good strategy. But you need to know who is accessing what data and why, and above all, with what intent.

“Don’t underestimate the value of your data. Make sure you are familiar with the policy on ownership, confidentiality and monetization of your data and its copies for each of your technology vendors,” DeLarochelliere recommends.

Transportation lawyer Pierre-Olivier Menard Dumas, of Stein Monast in Quebec City, emphasizes the importance of taking the time to read your contract. “These are often long contracts drawn up under U.S. law. It is important to understand what you are signing in order to meet your payment obligations, the limits on what you buy, and ownership of the data you will generate.”

It is also important to know how you can terminate the contract if you don’t like the product, so that you do not have to pay for the service until the end of the contract.

The engine’s electronic control module collects a lot of data about your operations, but your vehicle’s telematics and telemetry go even further. They allow you to have much more data and information on the use of your vehicles.

“If you are not ready to provide this data to your main competitor, are you ready to let a supplier freely use this data without your consent?” Dumas asks.

Several governments around the world have passed laws to regulate the use of data and determine data ownership, he says.

“It would not be surprising if such laws were adopted here in the future to regulate the ownership and use of telematic data.”

Steve Bouchard

Steve Bouchard started writing about trucks over 20 years ago, making him by far the most experienced trucking journalist in Quebec. Steve is the editor of Quebec’s leading French-language trucking magazine, Transport Routier, published by Newcom Média Québec since its creation in 2000. He is also editor of the associated website transportroutier.ca, and a contributor to Today’s Trucking and Trucknews.com.

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