Last week, Miriam Cherry posted a blog entry on Concurring Opinions that got some of us thinking. Here is what she wrote about a conversation she had with an AT&T customer service representative:
The customer service representative said that she had heard that AT&T was cooperating with several insurance companies. In order to reduce the number of accidents related to texting while driving, insurance companies were starting to investigate the cellphone records and texting records surrounding an accident. Your insurance company wants to know whether anyone was texting right before the accident happened. She said that AT&T was working with the insurance companies to deny these claims, and that AT&T was “turning over the records of texting.”
I agree that texting while driving is problematic and that distraction can lead to driver error and an increased accident rate. While unsafe, this behavior is illegal in some jurisdictions but legal in others. I guess what made me uneasy is AT&T’s cooperation to turn over these records, when I think most people tend to think that text messages or phone logs are not subject to being read or viewed unless the user makes them available (or otherwise leaks them). Other questions: what exactly will be revealed to my insurance company? What about the content of messages? Will it make a difference if the driver was texting or just receiving texts (as I was, from the AT&T representative), but not looking at them? My opinion: more transparency is called for.
1. Could AT&T enter into an agreement/contract with an auto insurance company to provide them with information on customers’ use of cell phone or text messaging – not the content of any text or call or the number dialed, but simply the (1) the exact time the call was made, (2) its duration, or (3) the time a text message was sent?
2. If the answer to 1 is “yes,” can the customer deny AT&T the ability to share such information without a subpoena, and if so, how would the customer do that?
3. If an insurance company notified AT&T that they suspect a driver was texting while driving, would that constitute “unlawful use” of AT&T’s services in a state where texting while driving is illegal?
Today I received a response from AT&T:
This commitment includes personal information about calls and text messages as described in your question.
So although they didn’t answer the third question I posed, they seem to be stating that no way would they sell or provide such records to an auto insurance company without user consent or, I assume, some legal requirement such as a court order.