The relevance of technology within the trucking industry cannot be overstated, with the market deluged by the promise of data analytics, which provides companies ways to drive efficiency into their operations. But in the context of capturing data from freight operations, the issue of data and personal privacy is often thrown out of the window.
Truck drivers are at the receiving end of such changes. They are slowly being pushed into a situation where regulations and constant monitoring has stripped away much of their privacy. The government, through its electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, has effectively made sure drivers follow the hours of service (HOS) regulations to the “T,” while fleet managers micromanage driver behavior and truck movement.
“The rules for the ELD mandate are not flexible and it seems to be designed for machines and not humans. The rules from the late 1980s were flexible and good. But fleets did not strictly follow those rules, and because paper logging was used [to monitor HOS], it was easy to work around regulations,” said Tapan Choudhari, the CEO of TruckX, an ELD provider. “Though ELDs are a step in the right direction in terms of monitoring compliance, it still is hard for some drivers to adjust.”
Chaudhari pointed out drivers are increasingly getting frustrated with being tracked every minute, with their primary concern being their lack of privacy. “With ELD data, brokers can know how many hours a driver has on his HOS and his current location. This can lead to drivers being exploited, with brokers providing them bad rates by leveraging ELD information,” he said.
Then again, there is quite a difference between the way large companies approach privacy and the way mid-tier and small fleets look at the issue. Generally, sharing truck movement data with shippers and brokers is not a top concern for large fleets, as they usually have established, long-term relationships.
But smaller companies usually have at least around 50 percent of their business coming from the spot market. This makes smaller fleets generally averse to sharing sensitive truck movement data, as shippers on the spot market tend to look for a one-time hauling service.
“That said, privacy is still a relatively new issue; many people are not even aware that their data is being exploited. It’s the same problem that we’ve seen with companies like Facebook,” said Chaudhari. “Most of the ELD companies have their integrations with companies that share location data. So once a driver says it is okay to share his location, the software keeps pinging the server every few seconds, and there is no way for a driver to control who the ELD company shares the data with or where the data is being used.”
Apart from the ELDs themselves, location data can be shared by different free trucking-related applications that drivers install on their smartphones – like the ones that map nearby truck stops or maintenance sheds.
Earlier this year, a group of senators called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the business dealings of telecommunications companies with bounty hunters over their data-sharing arrangements. The senators wrote a letter charging the service providers have failed to regulate themselves or their partners, thus exposing consumers to serious harm. This led major telecom service providers to disable app-less cell phone-based pinging.
“I think the technology of tracking is good for both drivers and fleets. But it is up to the technology provider and fleet management to judiciously approach data sharing and provide privacy for drivers,” said Chaudhari. “The concern about privacy is definitely there among truckers, and it is important to create an environment where they feel happy to work.”