For a price, would you let car insurer along for the ride? -
asks a USA Today technology story by Kevin Maney. It seems
that Progressive Insurance and IBM have worked out a scheme to
pay drivers to be safer - by monitoring their every move in
their own cars, and how fast they make that move, and where
they park, and what time they drive.
The program is being tested in Minnesota and in the U.K. in a
privacy busting program that rewards drivers for keeping under
the maximum speed limits and driving during safer times of
day. It's an interesting twist that is compared here to a
shopper reward card that monitors what you buy, although it
doesn't give you lower prices if you buy healthy food - which
seems like the best analogy. (But it does let the food chains
know how often you shop and how much you spend on what types
of food, and alcohol, and cigarettes and trashy tabloids.)
Drivers must attach an electronic monitor to their cars that
downloads information which is generated and stored there in
diagnostic chips included in most newer model vehicles. As they
drive, it stores current driving behavior - and location - and
driving times and at the end of the defined time, drivers take
the unit into the house, attach a USB cable and download that
information into their computer and transmit it to
But the insurance discount program does have an interesting
twist in the Minnesota test. Apparently drivers who see from
their downloaded information (or just know they drove badly at
times) that they exceeded maximum speed limits, drove during
expensive times (2am when bars close is most expensive, after
11pm is next) can choose NOT to send that information to
Progressive and pay the normal undiscounted insurance rate.
It appears to have the true benefit of making drivers become
more cautious and drive within limits of the law during safe
hours. There is nothing wrong with this for those willing to
give up the information. This allows those willing to be
monitored the choice to send the information to their insurer
and get a discount or NOT send it to pay normal rates. It's
I'm among those who continues to use supermarket loyalty
cards, even though I despise the fact that they can see my
purchase history and note my travel habits. The savings are
just too great to pass up. (I used a false name to set the
card up, but quickly noted that they tied together my debit
card name and loyalty card purchases, thus gaining that
information that I had denied them with the false name - now I
use cash.) You certainly can't do the same with the insurance
driving discounts. Information must be accurate to properly
insure and discount the policy.
The UK program is more invasive and offers far less choice.
Drivers must always download the information from the car
module to gain insurance discounts and the British company
monitors more information from those UK drivers.
The US version may have some merit if choice remains a part of
the equation upon full rollout to American drivers who want
that ten percent discount on auto insurance policies in
exchange for giving up the privacy of their driving habits.
The disturbing part of this, again, as always, is the possible
merging of multiple databases to form near perfect
surveillance pictures of us with each new development. Our
supermarket discounts show that big database what we eat,
what else we buy at the grocery, the insurance information
defines our travels and schedule, our credit and debit card
use defines our spending, travel and lifestyles, while
multiple other databases from airline security info to phone
records can be merged at any time to form near perfect
pictures of our lives for anyone that wants to access it.
Once a national ID (driver licenses will soon carry mandatory
magnetic information and will serve as a defacto national ID),
we can be fully monitored, tracked, analyzed and digitized to
form a truly invasive database of numbers and bits of
information about each of us.
The sources of data about each of us are growing daily. The
concern is the loss or abuse of that data through commercial
and/or governmental negligence and/or criminal intent. The
methods to access that data are growing as the sources
Privacy is something we give up in small bits for small
benefits, like cheaper produce using supermarket loyalty cards
and insurance discounts using car monitors hooked up to our
insurance carrier. We need laws to control and safegaurd each
of those databases and stop any merging of those multiple
sources of data into the ultimate Big Brother database.
I want my car insurance reduced and I'm willing to consider
this newest scheme if I have choice of whether to send my info
to my insurer. I will send it when I've been good and won't
when I have been less good. But I don't want it merged with my
other sources of data or shared among commercial interests who
may see fit to sell it to each other.
It gets more interesting daily. Who is in control of this
privacy devouring data monster?
Mike Banks Valentine blogs on privacy issues at:
http://PrivacyNotes.com/privacy_blog/ You can subscribe
to the RSS feed by entering My Yahoo or My MSN at:
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