AI-enabled dashcams - steering the right course between data protection and safety

Lawrence Schoeb Profile picture for user Lawrence Schoeb September 6, 2022
With smart technology comes responsibility... While safety is a high priority for organizations, Lawrence Schoeb of Samsara delves into why the use of smart technology needs to be underpinned by smart policies.

Aerial view: Self-driving autonomous electric cars of the future with HUD elements move along a busy traffic intersection. Concept: Artificial Intelligence, Car Scan, GPS Tracking, Smart Roads, IoT © AIInStock - Shutterstock
(© AIInStock - Shutterstock)

For many people, the evidence is simply overwhelming: dashcams and other vehicle-mounted technology — which are increasingly augmented with artificial intelligence (AI) — don’t just improve road safety, they save lives.

And when installed in lorries and trucks — the workhorses of the commercial world that underpin physical operations — this technology can even prevent accidents happening in the first place.

What’s more, the uptake of AI dashcams is accelerating, with nine in 10 operations leaders in a recent global study by Samsara saying they have adopted such technologies or plan to by 2023.

Smart technology needs to be underpinned by smart policies

These smart systems are part of a broader range of vehicle safety technologies known as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). These use cameras and sensors for features such as adaptive cruise control and emergency braking systems, to make life safer on the roads.

Together, ADAS can reduce driver distraction, provide real-time feedback to managers, improve training, and assist in post-collision investigations — all of which enhance safety, increase operational efficiencies, and lower costs.

Forward-facing AI dashcams with the lens focused on the road ahead, for example, can provide early warning alerts to drivers about tailgating, speeding, heavy braking, or veering from a lane while driving.

At the same time, driver-facing AI cameras can keep an eye on those behind the wheel, picking up tell-tale signs if they become distracted, illegally use a phone, or even start to nod off.

In effect, these smart dashcams can act as an in-cab driving coach providing a reassuring ‘nudge’ when needed.

Ensuring ADAS meets privacy and data protection legislation

While for many people the case for ADAS is compelling, it does touch on legislation and compliance around privacy and data protection — not just for drivers, but passengers and other road users.

And it’s an issue that doesn’t just impact vehicle operators. It’s a situation faced by any organization that collects, analyzes, and stores personal data. From medical records to facial recognition, the rights of what is deemed to be ‘a good thing’ have to be balanced against the personal and data privacy of the individual.

In other words, when it comes to installing AI-enabled dashcams in commercial vehicles, ethics, privacy, and data protection are just as important as the technology itself. And that’s before you consider regional and country-specific legislation regarding such matters.

Navigating privacy concerns when implementing new technology

Which is why Samsara worked with the highly respected independent group — the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) — to develop a practical guide to video-based safety technologies aimed specifically for commercial fleet vehicles such as lorries and vans.

Drawing on expertize from policy and legal experts, the guide is designed to help users navigate the issues they may face when implementing such technology.

The starting place — even before plugging in the first dashcam — is to acknowledge that the volume and nature of the personal data collected by video-based telematics in commercial fleets can give rise to privacy risks.

Knowing that there is an issue is important because it sets the scene for everything that follows. By analyzing and understanding privacy considerations, fleet operators are able to comply with existing rules, stay ahead of evolving regulations, and ensure that data-driven schemes promote safety, trust, and respect for all concerned.

Recognising privacy risks associated with dashcams is only the first step

In short, from a legal and compliance perspective, there are four key areas that need to be considered.

1. ‘Privacy by design’ — place privacy at the heart of everything you do 

As a guiding principle, ‘Privacy by design’ means ensuring that privacy is built into every dashcam or ADAS device.

That might mean ensuring that video-based safety technologies have built-in privacy and security protections with features that can be customized. This would, for example, give managers a certain level of control over what type of information is collected, how long it’s stored, who has access to what data, and what data may be shared with third parties.

Operators should also be allowed to choose whether the video footage collected is updated continuously in real time, or only uploaded to the cloud and viewed when an incident is recorded.

2. Provide transparency

When it comes to dashcams, fleet managers need to tell their drivers about exactly what data is collected, how the data is used, and whether the data is shared with third parties, which tends to be detailed in a “privacy policy" or “privacy notice.”

In practical terms, it means letting people know why the technology is being implemented — such as a move to improve driver safety or to provide evidence for insurance claims — and who is able to view the footage.

Supporting policies should go further still and set out exactly when, and under what circumstances, footage from dashcams may be disclosed to authorities or other third parties, and the consequences for the company violating such policy.

3. Ensure security — at the same level on the road as in the office

Just because an ‘office’ happens to be a lorry or van, it doesn’t mean the levels of data security are any different. The rules that govern the rest of the world also apply if you’re on the road.

Vehicle operators still need to ensure that all data is encrypted and transmitted securely. And there needs to be all the other necessary checks in place such as the auditing of a software provider’s infrastructure, disaster recovery, data backup, and incident response processes.

4. Employ robust written contracts with third-party providers

And it almost goes without saying that whenever you use a third-party provider, it’s important to have robust written contracts in place to delineate roles as to who is responsible for what.

As the technology powering video-based safety solutions continues to evolve, it’s clear lawmakers will continue to weigh up the benefits to road safety against privacy and data protection.

Just as the technology will continue to develop, privacy and data processing laws will change as well. Whatever the outcome, for organizations that are keen to do everything they can to improve safety, it’s crucial to stay ahead of rules and regulations by proactively implementing privacy best practices.

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