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Big Brother’s minion?

Mark Ellott has a thing or two to say about the Norwich Union’s pilot scheme for pay-as-you-drive motor insurance.

While we are sleepwalking into a surveillance society, the Norwich Union is egging us on… They are trialling a system of in-car monitoring (a black box by any other name) that records details of the vehicle’s journey. Where it went, how fast it travelled etc.

The box records real-time vehicle usage and sends the data to Norwich Union securely using mobile technology.

Each month or quarter, the motorist will receive a document similar to their mobile phone bill advising them of their journey details. Pay as you go insurance – sounds innocuous enough. During the BBC piece it was suggested that the monthly or quarterly bill may provide advice for improving the cost effectiveness of one’s driving (from an insurance point of view) by providing alternatives to the routes taken.

Even more worrying, perhaps is the quote from the Norwich Union director of the pay-as-you-drive scheme, Robert Ledger:

The interest in the pilot scheme has been phenomenal. We could have filled the pilot twice over with the amount of requests we’ve had from interested motorists, not just within the UK but from drivers around the world.

Sleepwalking indeed…

According to the BBC’s Breakfast programme, there is no clear indication yet about how the data will be stored, used and accessed – will the Norwich Union sell it? Will the police or other agencies have access to it? So far these are unanswered questions.

One motorist volunteer thinks this will give her control over her insurance costs. For a low mileage user, this may be so. For the rest of us? It is always worth remembering that insurance companies are not charities – they are investing in this because they see a revenue opportunity. Oh, how simple it all could be – analysing a driver’s record and declaring his insurance void due to, say driving several hours without a break or breaking the speed limit – or, just hiking the premium.

Personally, I prefer to control my insurance costs by playing them off against each other come renewal time.

3 comments to Big Brother’s minion?

  • Paul

    I heard this item on Today, this morning. The NU spokesperson categorically denied that the vehicle speed would be recorded. This seemed pretty unlikely to me – if you have time and location this can be worked out I presume.

    The most amusing bit was when NU implied that to avoid their surveillance you could, of course, go elsewhere for insurance. Which insurer is not going to take this up?

  • Mark Ellott

    Curiously enough, on the BBC item, speed was one of the things mentioned. Although the NU wasn’t interviewed on that programme. They did interview a motoring journalist (name escapes me) who also mentioned speed. After all, if they want to make a judgement about insurance risk, that would be a rather silly ommission. Mixed messages?

  • Mark Ellott

    Further to this:

    According to USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/2004-08-08-insure_x.htm the US version being trialled by Progressive Insurance specifically uses speed as a determining factor for insurance premium discounts. To quote Progressive Insurance executive Dave Huber: “We’re interested to see if the program could cause people to become safer drivers — perhaps by trying to stay under 75 to qualify for discounts.”

    So, do we believe Norwich Union?