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Progressive-ly more intrusive

September 20, 2011

Progressive Insurance has gone national with their new driver-tracking device.  Plugged into your car, it’ll tell them how much you drive and how many sudden stops you make.  Then your insurance rates are adjusted accordingly.

They’ve had this in beta for a while, probably to associate the data with actual accident rates. Insurance companies are pretty good about not making assumptions, long ignoring jokes about women drivers because the real data showed they are, in fact, safer on the road.  For that matter a person like me, who hardly ever drives, may not necessarily be all that safe of a driver. There’s probably an optimal amount of driving and I could well be below it.

Will the advertising address privacy issues?  ”At Progressive, we’re watching how you drive, not where and when” or something like that.  There’s a marketing danger in raising issues some consumers may not have even thought of but again, that’s what focus groups and market studies are for.

In many cases people who stop to think about it will realize that in terms of daily habits, their lives could be considered boring.  Of course they will only think that if they are, in fact, bored with their lives.  Maybe people will start taking different routes and interesting, offbeat vacations to impress their Progressive tracking chip.

It will be interesting to see if other insurance companies pick this up.  If it becomes universal, will the small percentage of extremely dangerous drivers be priced right out of the market?  Or the monthly report would prompt them to modify their habits if they want to keep driving, which would be a Very Good Thing.

But insurance companies could apply the same logic to health insurance.  Perhaps people will start wearing implanted chips that monitor their heart rates and automatically call an ambulance if a heart-attack is imminent. You could have “pay-as-you-eat” health insurance that monitors blood cholesterol, or nicotine, or gives you savings points for daily cardio exercise. Consumers would realize that their insurance company would know when they climbed stairs, took a nap, or had sex.  Imagine divorce proceedings that subpoena that information; a market study should give an idea who would accept which privacy trade-offs.

Also doesn’t the “sharing of risk” depend to some extent on the sense that risk is only partly predictable?  Improved sensors could pick up cancer cells or degenerative neurological diseases – and quickly cancel someone’s policy if something chronically or terminally expensive occurred. Could the whole business model of insurance collapse in a matrix of data-collection and analysis?

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