Friday, August 05, 2005

Car Insurance Cheaper Under Surveillance Scheme

For a price, would you let car insurer along for the ride? - asks this 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 which types of food, and alcohol, and cigarettes and trashy tabloids.)

Drivers must attach an electronic monitor to their cars that downloads information already generated and stored there in a diagnostic chip 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 Progressive.

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 worth considering.

I'm among those who continues to use supermarket loyalty cards, even though I dispise 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 and 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 proliferate.

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?

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posted by RealitySEO at 2:52 PM


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