retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Yet another way in which technology is finding new on-ramps into our lives...

The Boston Globe reports on how technology may be changing the insurance business, with "more than a dozen insurers, seeking better ways to reward safe drivers and weed out riskier ones, are testing or marketing technologies to monitor driving habits, betting that customers are willing to give up privacy for the promise of lower bills." Essentially, what they are doing is "offering drivers a tantalizing deal: Sharply lower rates in exchange for permission to install a device that tracks when, where, or how you drive."

The story notes that insurance companies "have signed up 1.5 million US customers, according to industry analysts, and that total could easily rise into the tens of millions within the next five years."

However, the Globe reports that privacy advocates "worry that the proliferation of usage-based insurance could open up a Pandora’s box of concerns, possibly leading companies to require all customers to install monitoring devices to obtain insurance. Worse, some fear the devices could someday be equipped to track drivers’ every movement or eavesdrop on conversations - data that could eventually be sold or obtained by law enforcement authorities."

Last weekend, when I was in Chicago, I went to the prototype AT&T store on Michigan Avenue, and one of the things they were demonstrating was a Nissan Leaf automobile that included the ability to track where and how your teenagers are driving. (I supposed this is easier than actually providing better cell service nationwide.) This struck me as a good idea, and made me receptive to the concept raised by the Globe story.

Now, I think the privacy advocates have a point. And I certainly think that it seems possible that insurance companies, if they don't require such monitoring, could impose a financial penalty on those who will not allow their driving habits to be tracked.

And then ... maybe they'll put weight sensors underneath the driver's seat, so they can tell how heavy the driver is, and then charge them more for health insurance...

Next thing you know, we'll all find ourselves being watched while living in a place that resembles Hotel Portmeirion, near Penrhyndeudraeth in North Wales...
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