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Now Searchable: Your Rental Car

By - January 14, 2004

One of the purposes of my book is to expand the concept of what “search” means in everyday life. We’ve come to think that search = Google, and Google = search. But what of luggage? Of inventory? Of….Rental cars? In this disturbing NYT piece, Christopher Elliott tells the tale of Byngsoo Son, who rented a car in San Francisco, took a 12-day road trip with his family (Grand Canyon, Vegas, etc), and got a bill for over $3,400. Why? He crossed state lines, which he didn’t realize triggered a $1-a-mile clause in his contract. How did the car company know? Payless (oh, the irony!) had a GPS unit and “telematics” installed in the car, and was tracking its movements. In other words, they could search for the car at any point in its journey, so they knew when it triggered the Make-A-Shitload-of-Money clause. Did they call the hapless Son, and let him know that he might consider buying a used BMW instead? Of course not! Ah, the power of search….

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2 thoughts on “Now Searchable: Your Rental Car

  1. This isn’t so much search, as surveillance; closely coupled, but I’d use the former term if, say, the rental company made use of GPS-equipped cars and telemetering in order to find and direct the nearest other renter to where your car had broken down, to give you a lift… “Our fleet is searchable by location.”

    NB that they didn’t need to have real-time connections with the car to decide to bill him for surcharges… they could have had a unit on board store data, and it would have been easy to couple GPS and the odometer: program into the unit all of the entry/exit points of highways at the California border (or, alternatively, the geometric shape, as geocoords, of California), then record as “foreign” any miles that occur when an exit point is transited, until re-entry occurs, or all miles traveled outside of the California border, per matching GPS-derived location to the stored geocoords.

    As good a point as any to note that tomorrow’s Friday Forum on KQED (9 am on 88.5 FM in the Bay area) is on RFID and privacy, and the Computers Freedom & Privacy conference will occur this coming April at the Claremont Hotel overlooking Berkeley (but in Oakland, CA): http://www.cfp2004.org/

  2. John says:

    RE: GPS-equipped cars and telemetering in order to find and direct the nearest other renter to where your car had broken down, to give you a lift

    We are a rental car company based in Ireland and we plan on exploring this service as an option.

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