How to Stop Insurance Companies and Automakers From Stealing the Privacy of California Drivers

Jamie Court of Consumer Watch Dog writes that automakers and car insurance companies try to track your every move in your car and use that information against you. Now the Californians have a chance to stop them.

Consumer Watchdog’s report, “Connected Cars and The Threat To Your Privacy,” reveals how rules being developed by California’s new privacy commission (under voter-approved Proposition 24) could, for the first time, allowing you to opt out of having your precise geolocation tracked…if, and only if, automakers and auto insurance companies fail in their blitz lobbying for exemptions.

For example, insurance companies want to use the neighborhoods you travel in and the speed at which you brake to charge you more for car insurance. According to a secret recording of an insurance industry meeting, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara is quietly working with insurance companies to lift the current ban on the use of telematics – the data transmitted by cars – to set the price of your car insurance.

Jamie Court asked consumers to watch this short video of Insurance Commissioner Lara’s flip-flop on insurance company oversight and send her an email asking her to stand with consumers, not insurance companies.

As the report details, we are on the brink of a sea change in privacy where companies will have to honor our choices about how our private information is collected and used. This requires our vigilance. Please take a moment to send a message to Commissioner Lara.

Among the abuses identified in the report are:

• 13 major automakers surveyed by the US General Accounting Office said they collect, use and share data about the location and operations of connected vehicles.

• Automakers, including General Motors, Toyota, Ford, reserve the right to collect, use, and share data to track and market products.

• Automakers are working with software vendors to integrate advertising directly into the dashboard. Information from Chevy’s OnStar service is fed directly to apps for Dominos, IHOP and Shell, among others. Customers of geolocation data include retailers like Starbucks, so they can better know when someone is likely to buy a cup of coffee.

• Telenav, a software company developing in-vehicle advertising software, touts its “freemium” model popularized by streaming services such as Hulu and Spotify, where in exchange for free services, consumers will be flashed with advertisements. Pop-up car ads could generate an average of $30 per year per car. In an article on its website, “Why in-vehicle advertising works”, Telenav’s case boiled down to “advertising is worth it to the consumer”, while ignoring security and privacy. In this world of automotive surveillance and commerce, Telenav said there is a big opportunity to capitalize on the $212 billion that commuters spend while driving.

• The companies that follow us in our cars often claim that they are peddling “anonymized data”. Anonymized data, when combined with other data points such as credit card usage, can be used to identify and target you, according to automotive technologists and privacy advocates interviewed by Consumer Watchdog. Manufacturers have teamed up with data miners to geolocate cars in real time. Wejo, which touts its mobility data of more than 10 million connected cars, claims to see how fast cars travel on 95% of US roads.

• One of the biggest misconceptions is that technology makes driving safer. This is not the case. The number of fatalities per 100,000 miles traveled increased in 2020 by nearly 25%, according to the National Safety Council (NSC), marking the largest annual increase the NSC has seen in nearly 100 years. The year 2021 has seen an increase in the number of road deaths, prompting the federal government to act.

• The Californian insurance market is the epicenter of the latest battle over the use of telematics, the data transmitted by cars. California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara recently launched a Fight on Twitter with Elon Musk on the use of telematics data collected by cars in setting insurance rates, pledging to protect “consumer data, privacy and fair rates”. However, an investigation by Consumer Watchdog found that Lara was working privately with insurance companies on a proposal to allow electronic monitoring in California once he had the “political cover” to make it happen.

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