For a price, would you let car insurer along for the ride? -asks a USA Today technology story by Kevin Maney. It seemsthat Progressive Insurance and IBM have worked out a scheme topay drivers to be safer – by monitoring their every move intheir own cars, and how fast they make that move, and wherethey park, and what time they drive.
The program is being tested in Minnesota and in the U.K. in aprivacy busting program that rewards drivers for keeping underthe maximum speed limits and driving during safer times ofday.
It’s an interesting twist that is compared here to ashopper reward card that monitors what you buy, although itdoesn’t give you lower prices if you buy healthy food – whichseems like the best analogy. (But it does let the food chainsknow how often you shop and how much you spend on what typesof food, and alcohol, and cigarettes and trashy tabloids.)
Drivers must attach an electronic monitor to their cars thatdownloads information which is generated and stored there indiagnostic chips included in most newer model vehicles. As theydrive, it stores current driving behavior – and location – anddriving times and at the end of the defined time, drivers takethe unit into the house, attach a USB cable and download thatinformation into their computer and transmit it to Progressive.
But the insurance discount program does have an interestingtwist in the Minnesota test. Apparently drivers who see fromtheir downloaded information (or just know they drove badly attimes) that they exceeded maximum speed limits, drove duringexpensive times (2am when bars close is most expensive, after11pm is next) can choose NOT to send that information toProgressive and pay the normal undiscounted insurance rate.
It appears to have the true benefit of making drivers becomemore cautious and drive within limits of the law during safehours. There is nothing wrong with this for those willing togive up the information. This allows those willing to bemonitored the choice to send the information to their insurerand get a discount or NOT send it to pay normal rates. It’sworth considering.
I’m among those who continues to use supermarket loyaltycards, even though I despise the fact that they can see mypurchase history and note my travel habits. The savings arejust too great to pass up. (I used a false name to set thecard up, but quickly noted that they tied together my debitcard name and loyalty card purchases, thus gaining thatinformation that I had denied them with the false name – now Iuse cash.) You certainly can’t do the same with the insurancedriving discounts. Information must be accurate to properlyinsure and discount the policy.
The UK program is more invasive and offers far less choice.Drivers must always download the information from the carmodule to gain insurance discounts and the British companymonitors more information from those UK drivers.
The US version may have some merit if choice remains a part ofthe equation upon full rollout to American drivers who wantthat ten percent discount on auto insurance policies inexchange for giving up the privacy of their driving habits.
The disturbing part of this, again, as always, is the possiblemerging of multiple databases to form near perfectsurveillance pictures of us with each new development. Oursupermarket discounts show that big database what we eat,what else we buy at the grocery, the insurance informationdefines our travels and schedule, our credit and debit carduse defines our spending, travel and lifestyles, whilemultiple other databases from airline security info to phonerecords can be merged at any time to form near perfectpictures of our lives for anyone that wants to access it.
Once a national ID (driver licenses will soon carry mandatorymagnetic information and will serve as a defacto national ID),we can be fully monitored, tracked, analyzed and digitized toform a truly invasive database of numbers and bits ofinformation about each of us.
The sources of data about each of us are growing daily. Theconcern is the loss or abuse of that data through commercialand/or governmental negligence and/or criminal intent. Themethods to access that data are growing as the sourcesproliferate.
Privacy is something we give up in small bits for smallbenefits, like cheaper produce using supermarket loyalty cardsand insurance discounts using car monitors hooked up to ourinsurance carrier. We need laws to control and safegaurd eachof those databases and stop any merging of those multiplesources of data into the ultimate Big Brother database.
I want my car insurance reduced and I’m willing to considerthis newest scheme if I have choice of whether to send my infoto my insurer. I will send it when I’ve been good and won’twhen I have been less good. But I don’t want it merged with myother sources of data or shared among commercial interests whomay see fit to sell it to each other.