Mobile devices, Blecher said, are leading-edge tools that most people own and that travel with customers wherever they go, even if they're not driving their primary vehicles. That means that if a customer is involved in an accident while driving a rental car or riding in a cab, the insurer can still notify emergency services via the smartphone.
Agero has five contact centers in the U.S. that operate around the clock to handle emergency notifications. Insurers using the system get information about accidents through the smartphone almost instantaneously, allowing them to begin the claims process more quickly, Blecher said.
The new UBI apps use a smartphone's GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer to discern the difference between a dropped phone and one that has been involved in a vehicle accident. A Hadoop-based analytics engine determines how to alert an insurance company or roadside assistance service in seconds, Blecher said.
Agero claims that it serves 15 of the top 20 insurance companies and that 75% of the new passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. have its telematics software in them. As a result, Agero has "more information about cars and drivers than any other company."
"The raw data comes to one of our data centers where we do the processing. We then have direct connections into insurance companies," Blecher said. "They see the processed data and can make the evaluation on risky behavior to calculate risk premiums to insurers."
If a driver is in an accident, his smartphone will let him know that it's about to send a notification to Agero; the driver has 30 seconds to cancel the notification.
Nate Cardozo, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said technology like Agero's UBI suite that automatically sends data to insurers and automakers should raise red flags among consumers because "they have no way of finding out" how the data is being shared.
"Automakers are not required to disclose that information, and there's no federal mandate for it," Cardozo said. "Take Ford Sync, for example. In its terms of service, it says it's collecting location data and call data if you use Sync to dictate emails."
In another example, in 2011 GM's OnStar emergency notification and roadside assistance service began collecting data about the health of vehicles' mechanical and electrical systems.
The program was designed to help GM improve its own service by enabling the detection of mechanical problems or upcoming service needs. OnStar is also used to track stolen vehicles. However, GM shared data with third parties, according to Dominique Bonte, a vice president and practice director at ABI Research.
OnStar was also selling personal, but anonymized, information on vehicles, including speed, location, seat belt usage and other data.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.