Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

How Much Is Your Privacy Worth?

Ironically, on the very day our bat-brained Congress negates recently established rules to (nominally) protect our privacy on the Internet, along comes this proposal from my insurance broker:

If I would like to cut this year’s $1,200+ tab for auto insurance, Safeco proposes that I should allow them to attach a “Right Track” device to my car. For 90 days, this thing tracks my driving habits: every time I start the car, every time I touch the gas pedal, every time I hit the brakes: how fast I go, when I go, and how long it takes me to get there.

It does not, he insists, distinguish whether I’m on a freeway or a surface street or a dirt road, nor does it (says he) know where I’m going. Apparently that’s true for Safeco’s device, but not necessarily for all such tracking devices used by the many U.S. insurors: some evidently do use GPS to track your every mile.

But here’s what: You start out with the promise that you could get a discount of as much as 30% on this year’s premium. That would put my premium back to what I was paying two years ago for a fifteen-year-old junker. Sounds grand, eh?

Not so much. You get dinged for every infraction of every driving characteristic they’re spying on. You get dinged for “hard acceleration.” One commenter at a forum I came across yesterday did the math and discovered that going from 0 to 7.5 mph in 10 seconds amounts to “hard acceleration.” You get dinged if you have to step on the brakes because a cat — or a kid — runs out in front of you. You get dinged if you drive your car between certain prohibited hours. It goes on and on. Every ding cuts your discount. At the end of the 90 days, you’re likely to end up with only the 5% offered if you would please just agree to our bald-faced intrusion into your private comings and goings.

More to the point, possibly, this kind of black-box data can be used against you. If you get in an accident — let’s say you do run down that granny and her three grandchildren in that darned crosswalk — the police or granny’s survivors’ lawyers can subpoena the data and use it to build a fine, expensive case against you. Maybe even put you in jail. In other words, effectively, you can be forced to testify against yourself.

As one of Get Rich Slowly’s readers commented a year ago,

1: If I brake hard to avoid a child running into the street, or avoid an inattentive driver pulling out in front of me, I get penalized for hard braking, while the inattentive driver – even WITH a monitor, if they pull out in front of me smoothly – will not be penalized for being a bad driver.

2: If I drive home responsibly during rush hour, because I have a job, I get penalized for driving at peak times, but the person driving home drunk after stopping at the bar for “a few” doesn’t get penalized.

3: If the device’s accelerometer settings are also calibrated to identify harder acceleration, I will get penalized for accelerating and merging properly on very short freeway entrance ramps, but the little old lady cruising down the freeway at 30mph with her left-turn signal on, will be rewarded.

On the other hand, 30% of something over $1200 is something over $360. Nothing to sneeze at, especially when you’re trying to live mostly on Social Security.

So I thought about this. Discussed it with my son, who happens to work in the insurance industry. Slept on it. And this morning sent a message to the Honored Insurance Broker:

In the first place, my driving record should speak for itself. I’ve been on the road for over 50 years, and in all those years I’ve had two minor fender-benders — not counting inflicting a scratch the side of my co-religionist’s car in the church parking lot. One of those fender-benders was arguably not my fault, since the other driver ran a red light.

In the second place, it’s an unconscionable invasion of privacy. I realize Big Brother is watching us everyplace we go, and I realize that a 2014 Toyota is already equipped with gear that tracks every breath I take. But that doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t make me like it, and it certainly doesn’t incline me to go along willingly with it. There’s something especially distasteful about being asked to compromise my principles for a few bucks.

And in the third place, when you look into this, you find it’s likely to be exactly that: very few bucks. Companies promise a discount of from 5% to 30%, but the amount depends on how they adjudge your driving skills. Drivers report being dinged for accelerating from zero to 7.5 mph in 10 seconds: that’s hardly a drag-race speed. They also say you’re dinged if you stop normally at a stoplight, rather than taking your foot off the gas when you see a red signal way off in the distance. They report being flicked off by other drivers for blocking traffic with blue-haired driving techniques.

In the Phoenix area, blue-hair driving is unsafe: when you hold up traffic by not getting off the dime or by hypermiling toward stop signs and signals, you can cause accidents by enraging other drivers, and you put yourself at risk of a great deal worse than an occasional finger flicked in your direction. Aggressive brake-checking, harassment, and even shots fired are likely consequences.

I’m not going to put myself at risk nor am I going to subject myself to even more invasion of privacy for a few bucks.

And you? How do you feel about this matter? Will you sell your privacy for a few bucks? Yes? And how much does your soul go for?

Images: Depositphotos, © ciuciumama

Author: funny

This post may be a paid guest contribution.


  1. I actually installed this device in my former car. I got exactly a 1% discount. So, no, I don’t think it’s worth it. When I inquired, I was told it was due to too much hard braking. I have a clean record by the way.

  2. Wow! What an outrage! I’d be furious.

  3. Oh, Hellz no!

  4. Frankly, I don’t think any of us have much “privacy” any more. (Especially after that vote by the House to roll back FCC privacy rules.) However, I don’t see myself ever installing one of those gadgets and my insurance company has never asked me to do so, either.