Turns Out Drivers Not So Interested In Big Brother Style Car Insurance

from the please-don't-spy-on-me dept

Four years ago, we wrote about the concept of “Big Brother-style car insurance,” where drivers would agree to have special black boxes attached to their cars which would transmit all sorts of info to the insurance company about their driving habits, including how much, when and how fast they drove. Those drivers who drove safer (or at safer “times”) were offered better rates. We were actually quite surprised in 2005 to hear the company behind the most intrusive of these programs, Norwich Union in the UK, claim that the early tests were going so well that it was expanding the program. Three years later, we now learn that the “going so well” part may have only been on the insurers’ side, rather than the customers’ side. In a post talking about why such surveillance insurance plans are a bad, bad idea, the EFF also points out that Norwich Union has just ditched its offering, noting that… well… almost no one signed up. Turns out that people aren’t so keen to sign up for Big Brother Brand car insurance after all. The “going well” part was actually all just wishful thinking, as the company says that it thought people would sign up only to discover that they didn’t.

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Comments on “Turns Out Drivers Not So Interested In Big Brother Style Car Insurance”

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Sopor42 says:

I use it... but we'll see for how long.

I actually signed up for Progressive’s “MyRate” program for the first time this term. I got a discount to sign up, and *could* receive a pretty sizeable discount when I renew. My device does not transmit wirelessly, and I am under the understanding that I get to review my data, and then decide if I want to upload it.

As long as the discount is decent, and all I see to get uploaded is when, how far, and how fast… then I will likely continue with this program.

I guess my feeling is… if when/how far etch I drove is all that private to me, I probably shouldn’t drive on “public” roads.

WallyGater says:

Black boxes don't do the job

If the system only uses a black box (speed, location) then it doesn’t do much to help me. The real issue for an insurance company is who is at fault in the event of an accident. Show me a system that solves that problem and I’d be interested — and such a system would have to include cameras. I’ve been in a couple of accidents — not my fault, but no witnesses — a black-box/camera system that would have recorded the accident would be nice enough that I’d probably be willing to tolerate it.

James says:

Re: Black boxes don't do the job

Actually it seems to me showing speed and location could be a HUGE help in accidents.. what if the person at fault says they were driving more slowly than they really were, or weren’t in the wrong lane, yada yada yada?

Actually I know someone who participated in one of these.. he simply modified their data before uploading it to them … brilliant 🙂

Joe Krahn says:

Re: Let the Lobbying begin

> They have to do it for national security eventually.
> Speeders fund terrorists.

Speeders and drunk drivers ARE terrorists! Every year, they kill more people than the 9/11 attack.

But, I think a black box on the car is not the right approach. In Germany, speeding tickets are set up with automated cameras, and they send you a bill in the mail.

Another thing Germany does is require insurance companies to refund customers if their profits were too high.

James says:

Re: Re: Let the Lobbying begin

Surely you can’t be serious? Amazing the crack pot responses you get from the safety nazis. The truth is MOST speed are set for the lowest common denominator moron who can’t drive or can barely drive.

Blackboxes, speed bumps, etc. etc. are all band-aids on the real issue which is POOR DRIVING SKILLS. You may say speeding x# of miles over a speed limit is poor driving but the truth is poor driving can take place at or below the speed limit.

We should make it much much harder to get a license AND take it away for a year from the youngest drivers if they cause an accident in their first year. A person having a car that can go 100+ mph and not knowing how to handle it properly even at 25 scares me more than someone speeding or having a beer and then driving home.

Benjie says:

Re: Re: Re: Let the Lobbying begin

“The truth is MOST speed are set for the lowest common denominator moron who can’t drive or can barely drive.”

Reminds me of a few times where it was glare ice out and I was driving 50 in a 40, passed up someone. I slowed down coming up to them incase they’d change lanes. I think they were about 15 under. Nearing the first set of lights, I started to slow down and coasted from way back. The other person started slowing down too late and slipped through a red light and almmost got hit by a big snow plow.

Seems me going 10 over was driving “safer” than the person going 15 under because I knew what I was driving in.

Rick Sarvas says:

Re: Re: Let the Lobbying begin

According to what I saw recently on the History Channel, in Germany the amount of the speeding ticket is also calculated based on your total income. I suppose the reasoning behind that is that the rich take the same proportional hit on their income as the rest of us do when they receive a ticket.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why is this different that other business fantacies?

A lot of businesses make decisions based on fantasies. In the case of small businesses it is the bankers who often force business owners to face reality. Larger companies have investors who (occasionally)force the business to face reality. One reason really large companies get in trouble is that no one is watching over their shoulders. Most of the executives at Enron really thought things would turn around and cover their creative accounting. The recording industry is living on the fantasy that music downloads are the thing that is killing its business. The only large companies that succeed in the long run are the ones who don’t believe their own press releases.

Bart (profile) says:

Insurance companies can blame themselves...

Given the habit of IC’s to screw customers over (State Farms “hurricane insurance” in Louisiana comes to mind) this is easy to understand.

I’m sure that driving safe and under the speed limit all year round will lower your rates with about $5 annually, and at the same time they’ll use it as an excuse to jack up your rates with $150 when you’re going over the speed limit once with 5mph.

Now, that might not really be the case, but probably the way everyone feels – and the reason nobody signs up.

Argus says:


I signed up for one of these in a US trial with my insurance company. About three months into the trial I received a cancellation letter from the company. When I called my agent to see what was going on he told me my policy was cancelled for grossly excessive speed.

I said no way, that I want to know when, where, and how fast as I’m the only driver and I haven’t gone even 10MPH over in years. He said he’d check and get back to me and when he did about five minutes later he said I was reinstated and that it was in error. I ask for more information and he told me that my speed was shown in excess of 1000MPH and no-one caught the “error”.

Anonymous Hero says:

If you're not speeding...

you have nothing to worry about right?

While the argument by and large doesn’t really apply to any behavior where there’s a discrepancy between its perception as illegal by consumer and enforcement agency, it seems like it could make sense in this situation. Normally, the consumer doesn’t have any reason to subscribe to a program where the sacrifice of privacy is justified by this principle, but in the case where someone stands to save money by letting the insurance company track them, I could see a lot of people making the decision to partake. Imagine parents with young kids driving, who can monitor their child’s driving habits indirectly through the premiums they are paying, or drivers who habitually drive 10 below. They sacrifice a little privacy and save a couple dollars.

On the other hand, if you’re prone to stepping over the line, get a different service. But its not necessarily a bad idea. The only problem arises when you consider that it might be made a requirement.

Rose M. Welch says:

Re: If you're not speeding...

This happens anyway.

There was a retired cop in Texas who attached a GPS to his teenage son’s car and said, ‘When it says you speed one, you’re grounded from your car for a month. The next time it says you speed, you lose the car altogether.’. The GPS transmitted speed and location every thirty seconds.

Funny part was, he got pulled over for going eighty in a sixty-five zone, and his dad got him off because he showed how faulty the speed guns are compared to the GPS, which said he wasn’t speeding at all…

So parents do have recourse, without setting a horrible privacy precendent.

rocket morton says:

by admission

By your reluctance to agreeing to use such a monitoring device you are by admission revealing that your behavior while operating a motor vehicle is suspect. Considering that the privilege of operating a land based motor vehicle requires that you commingle yourself with a vast collective of other motorized land based vehicles, your behavior can have extraordinary repercussions if you choose to not comply with the fundamental rules of safe operation. In short, you want to drive like a jackass and endanger all of the other drivers and pedestrians in your direction of motion. Damn them all.

Imagine if the FAA and air traffic control operated under a policy of anything goes……

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: by admission

Please tell me you’re being sarcastic. For those who ether can’t or don’t want to translate, he said “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

I drive the speed limit. Not because I don’t think I can handle a higher speed, but because I know that I wouldn’t save time by doing it (and I don’t like sitting in traffic). I would still never get this device even if it dropped my insurance to $5 per month (mine just dropped below $100/m). Not because my driving is “suspect”, but because I like my privacy. Just because I drive on a public road doesn’t mean where I go is public knowledge.

Mark says:

Driving skills

YES, the solution here is to get people more educated and disciplined about driving. One good way to control speed is high gas prices and educating folks about how they can save money by not driving like they’re at the racetrack. I hypermile and now get 22mpg+ from my 07 Expedition and 42mpg from my 08 Camry Hybrid. yes I drive under the speed limit and I also drive over sometimes, but not by more than 5-8 mph. That said, I haven’t had a ticket since 1996. I have also raced, so I know how to handle a car. Things need to be done in such a way that the rewards of doing the right thing are so much better than the increased pain of doing the wrong thing. And for God’s sake, keep big brother out of my car. A safe driver can’t necessarily be measured by numbers emailed to an insurance company anyway. It’s a gimick and won’t save any more money than the old tickets, accidents, license checks they do now. Kinda like gun control… who is going to follow the rules? The good guys. Do criminals follow the rules? Noooo…and probably don’t have insurance anyway.

snowburn14 says:

Why is this surprising?

Insurance companies are driven by statistics. And statistics show (I presume…haven’t bothered to actually look up specifics, but it’s common sense) that all else being equal, people who exceed the speed limit are more likely to cost the company money. It only makes sense that they would try to assess premiums based on who’s a bigger risk.
You can talk all you want about how driving faster doesn’t necessarily mean driving less safely, and I’d agree with you. But you can’t deny that a higher speed means a higher damage potential… if you can, you need to take an intro to physics course somewhere. It doesn’t matter who you are or how good a driver you think you may be, if something goes wrong – brakes fail, steering goes out, unseen road hazard, what have you – the slower you were traveling, the less it will cost the insurance company… setting aside the issue of actual safety. And so they try to account for that in deciding how much to charge people. Where’s the mystery?
Now, that being said, I would never voluntarily sign up for a black box program – but I can see how plenty of people would if it saved them money. This information would inevitably be given to law enforcement from time to time, and likely other agencies, and I just don’t trust the average cop enough to tell them where I’m driving to at any give time. Though in truth, I just don’t trust the average PERSON, and last I checked they don’t wave a magic wand to make cops any better than the rest of us before they give ’em a badge.
And that’s just the potential for misuse that I can foresee, and my imagination isn’t very good…

Maggie says:

Not just speed-

Mu husband actually just received an offer like this from his insurance co Travelers- unlike the previous offers though, it did not state anything about discounts, it is more like a Nielsen rating thing where they want to just examine anonymously the usage of many different drivers to determine people’s typical driving habits for future rating information. Sounds legit, but I’m not buying it anyway tyvm.
I actually used to work in Insurance though, and these guys aren’t just looking for Speed- one of the main things your insurance co’s consider regarding auto insurance is how much you drive- esentially they want you just to be driving to and from work less then 10 miles each way every day, and that is most likely how everyone here is rated. Over 10 miles jacks up your rate a good amount, believe me. Obviously they will take into consideration normal errand usage and such, but frankly, most people I know drive at least 20 minute commutes- they would all have their insurance rates jacked up if the companies knew. So even if you don’t speed, but you drive a half hour to work each way every day, or take a lot of road trips or whatnot, you should think twice about agreeing to one of these in your vehicle.
Another thought is that you are rated differently depending on where you live- I only know about NY, not other areas of the country, but in NY if you live upstate it’s the cheapest, then from LI in the closer you get to the city your rates go up. So if you live out east on LI but go out to Queens to see family a few times a week- I’m sure the co’s would take that into account too- that not only are you driving many more miles then what they feel you are paying for, but also that you are spending too much time driving in areas which they consider more dangerous and more prone to accidents- you would probably receive a non renewal for being too much of a risk.
After all, they are in the business of NOT paying money out- their whole business model is to determine, and insure, those who pose the the least risk of causing them to actually have to do what they are paid for- pay money on claims.

Overcast says:

By your reluctance to agreeing to use such a monitoring device you are by admission revealing that your behavior while operating a motor vehicle is suspect. Considering that the privilege of operating a land based motor vehicle requires that you commingle yourself with a vast collective of other motorized land based vehicles, your behavior can have extraordinary repercussions if you choose to not comply with the fundamental rules of safe operation. In short, you want to drive like a jackass and endanger all of the other drivers and pedestrians in your direction of motion. Damn them all.

Imagine if the FAA and air traffic control operated under a policy of anything goes……


A driver is obviously drunk and has a problem with me – let’s say I didn’t – but he perceived I cut him off. Maybe it was another car, or he was trying to pass unsafely – whatever.

Now, if I speed up to 75 to get away from the clown or whatever – how can the car’s computer know that? I AM a safe driver, in fact – I used to drive a school bus – the training I got is well applied in a car as well. I drive very defensively, but that doesn’t always include keeping exactly at the speed limit or driving at a certain part of the day.

So – it’s safer to drive at 6:30 PM moreso that 5:00 PM? What if there’s a major winter storm coming – predicted to be a blizzard at 6:00 PM – would 6:30 still be a safer time than 5:00 to drive? I think not.

The computer cannot make intelligent decisions or provide accurate data without ALL of the facts. I may have sped up to 90 miles per hour to get out of trouble – or who knows? There are a lot of variables that the computer just cannot measure.

But I guess – some people, can drive and NEVER EVER move of of their lane, speed up, hit the brakes quickly, make a defensive sharp turn – or anything like that. They can drive exactly the speed limit, in their lane and never, ever regardless of any situation have to detour from the routine because, well I guess they are perfect. And I also suppose, when stuck in snow and spinning the tires – they also insure the speedometer never goes over the posted speed limit – regardless of the fact that in reality the car’s not moving, however the computer in the car is not aware of that.

Imagine if the FAA and air traffic control NEVER allowed deviation at all – regardless of the situation.

It’s a wonder these perfect computers aren’t already driving the cars for us!!

john says:

Re: Re:

I agree partially because there is no reason behind our driving as a computer sees it. However in due time this could become more plausible as computer systems become more advanced and eventually integrated for a specific use like this. For example, one system reports road conditions, another senses other cars, another senses vital signs, etc. Once these become integrated they could mean something, right now it probably isn’t a very good idea.

Mark says:

Imagine if they put accelerometers in there too… it’d show how hard you brake, how fast you accelerate, take turns, the whole 9 yards. hell, just plug it in the OBD-II and you get all that info and get location from a GPS and you might as well have them sitting next to you like an unforgiving parent on your first driving lesson. No thank you. Driving is a privilege, but keep your crap outta my car.

John (profile) says:


Okay, here’s the choice on the road around here:

1) You do the speed limit of 55 and get run over by people who do 70, 75, and 80.

2) You keep up with traffic and do 70 mph, but your “black box” reports back that you’re speeding.

Which do you do? Slow down to avoid a “black box” insurance cancellation or speed up to avoid road rage from the drivers around you?

In other words, these “big brother” devices don’t understand the context of the situation.

claire rand says:

Fit Black Boxes

Fit a black box data recorder, maybe with 24hrs worth of storage. monitor positions of the pedals, speed, gear, horn, lights, wipers. maybe add engine revs, and fuel consumption.

provide a way to extract the file, with a hash so it can’t be (easily) tampered with.

runs on a rolling 24hrs of run time, records speed every second, accelerator etc. and all changes to other things.

you’re in a crash, it will show what happened just before, if you did sound your horn, if you were swerving etc.

you have the ability to download to a pc at home, so you get your fuel economy info etc.

as a plus point you get pulled for speeding, well you can grab a download that evening and compare with the time stamp from the cops…

and plod can pull a quick download roadside.

won’t get everything, no cameras, but for accidents and ‘safety’ it will work.

insurance companies may want an aggrigated set of data submitting.

include GPS and it knows where you are (make it part of the cars nav system). but note it has *no* transmitter, just the recorder. big brother? sort of, but it works for planes and trains.

you would be amazed how many times a trains speed trap system ‘plays up’ when the driver ‘was doing the limit’ and the download tells a slightly different story.

I’d have one, plus if its built in and the car gets pinched, it will record where its been etc.

maybe add a weeks storage or something, or more, combining its memory with a music player or something. you just need a resonably tamper proof file format.

oh and have a registered list of cars that have the devices, if you get a ticket, and *don’t* submit a download but claim innocence, well it nails you, if you were not speeding you’re in the clear.

can’t see the gov going for it, no tracking, or ability to use it for taxes etc. but for ‘safety’ its pretty good.

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