How can a car insurance company continue to make money if driverless cars might make car damage a thing of the past? The answer is simple and sinister: by gathering as much private information about their customers as possible. Google has been doing it very successfully for years and the value of their shares has only been going up. Data is the new oil.
Dutch insurance company Achmea tried it last year, but wasn’t very smart about it. An excited CEO told a financial newspaper how much fun his trip to Silicon Valley had been. He’d seen how Google turns private information into money, and he wanted to do the same thing: give discounts to customers who will agree to have a box installed in their homes and in their cars, which will gather and transmit private information 24/7. A furious twitter explosion soon wiped that idea off the table.
Last week, the Big Brother insurance idea reared its head again. This time it wasn’t Achmea but the largest association in the Netherlands that wanted to give it a try: the ANWB (Royal Dutch Touring Club), and its subsidiary Unigarant. Just a few years ago, the ANWB was still opposed to road pricing by the kilometre, because that would risk the privacy of the driver. But now they’ve somehow turned into a wolf in sheep’s clothing, choosing a particularly friendly-seeming way to present their own data grabbing practices: who could ever have a problem with the ‘ANWB Safe Driving Car Insurance’, as they’ve christened their Orwellian insurance plan?
ANWB members are now being lured with the prospect of a 30% discount if they’ll have a box installed into their car that will constantly keep tabs on them, registering their driving speed and how quickly they brake and accelerate, but also their location. All data are sent to the ANWB and are kept on file for over 7 years, in exchange for a discount that’s calculated on a quarterly basis, based on your driving habits. How long will it be before some hacker or secret service gets their hands on that information? The ANWB’s new insurance makes privacy into a privilege for the rich, rather than a basic right for everyone. But privacy and security aren’t the only problems with this Big Brother approach to insurance, which more and more insurance companies can be expected to join in with.
Insurance is based on solidarity. Large numbers of people pay a small fee every month, in order to cover the large costs of rare accidents. And to err is human, and so is having plain bad luck. But using modern technologies, which are becoming cheaper and cheaper to use, insurance companies are trying to create a sort of ‘superhuman’ who is always at minimal risk. That would be a driver who accelerates and brakes and takes turns slowly, never speeds or drives too slowly or for too long in one go, never plays music in the car (because then they wouldn’t hear the horns of other road users), and never uses a phone (not even hands free, because it’s still a distraction). Only that superhuman will get the discount; everyone else will pay a penalty.
It’s just cars now, but the possibilities are endless. If condoms will come with a computer chip too – I know it sounds crazy, but a surveillance box in your car sounded crazy too ten years ago – then you’d better use those regularly. If you don’t, you’re probably having unsafe sex, so your health insurance fee will automatically go up. You’ll be at more risk of STD’s and (unwanted) pregnancy. If you never use the stairs, you’re more likely to develop obesity, so your fee goes up. If you run down the stairs too quickly, you’ll also get a push notification from your insurance company telling you to take it easy. And of course, you’ll pay a higher health insurance fee next month, because you’re probably going to fall some time. And so, we will no longer be allowed to make any mistakes, and people who do occasionally make mistakes or don’t want to give up their liberties will pay the price for it in that Orwellian society, where insurance no longer has anything at all to do with solidarity between different kinds of people.
It remains to be seen whether this new ANWB insurance will even be justifiable, because keeping cars’ every move on record for seven years is not ‘necessary data processing’ for a car insurance company. And for a driving habits-based discount plan, the ANWB certainly doesn’t need to register your location. The box in your car could easily calculate the maximum speed on a certain road, and whether someone is a safe or a reckless driver. The only thing the ANWB really needs from that box is one or more driving habits ratings, on a scale from 1 to 100, on the basis of which they can calculate your discount. But instead, they’ve chosen to keep your every ride on record for seven years. Why would they want to know in 2023 where you were driving today in 2016, and how fast?
The ANWB’s new insurance solves absolutely no problem at all that the privacy-friendly bonus/malus system doesn’t already take care of, it gathers private information for no good reason, it undermines solidarity in society and it forces people to pay a 30% higher insurance fee if they value their freedom or privacy, or don’t want to be coerced into living like a risk-less superhuman. And that’s why, in its present form, this is an absolutely terrible idea.