Is this device in your car a spy or a boon in your wallet?

A discussion about privacy broke out in my house. My wife, Karen, wants to protect her privacy by not letting our new car insurance company track her driving.

Much to my surprise, I decided to agree to track so I could test out their system, see if it makes me a better driver, and there’s a potential discount too.

Privacy vs discount. exchange one for the other. It is the dilemma of the twenty-first century. Have you faced this decision in your own home?

Wait till you hear what my new insurance company is after. But first I’d like to tell you about the other tracking devices I already have in my car.

Mobile Beacon

Forget the Location Services app on my smartphone that’s already tracking me. In addition, I have approved two more tracking devices in my car. Each has its own “beacon” to measure my movements, either through a phone app or a small square device that works through Bluetooth.

The first is a study I co-authored from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute titled “Using Behavioral Economics to Better Understand Managed Lane Use.” I translate that to mean, “Why do some drivers take toll roads while others don’t?” The study is funded by the Federal Highway Administration. Participation fee is $250.

For three months, the app on my phone will use GPS to watch my movements when I get on free routes that offer a choice of nearby fast lanes. Which one will I choose?

Presumably, it only tracks me when I’m near a highway.

I signed up because I’m curious as to why the free lanes are in most cases crowded while some of the toll roads are often empty. I don’t think the current system is working as it should.

Watchdog describes a rarely used program that allows you to cut your road bill in half on TEXpress roads.(David Lieber)

A second beacon

The second tracker in my car is the GoCarma app, which checks if two people are in the car during off-peak hours. If there is, drivers get 50% off their bills on TEXpress lanes only. (On Highway 635, the setup runs all day, not just during peak hours.)

To date, the North Central Texas Council of Government reports that 57,000 drivers have signed up for the program. That’s not much in the millions area, but I’m sure most people haven’t heard of it.

I have the app on my phone, but I forgot to open it. The way it works is that the passenger must have the app on their phone as well. Then the signal shows two smartphones in the same car. It is supposed to result in a 50% discount.

This is the third version of a technical solution to reward drivers who have a second passenger to collect cars.

The first version, several years ago, required drivers to register on a website 15 minutes before their trip, announcing that they would have another passenger. Definitely annoying.

The second version includes a “Passenger Card” that you had to keep in your glove compartment when you had another passenger.

The third version cuts out the passenger pass and only relies on the phone app to keep track of it.

GoCarma says in its privacy policy that it collects your location (but only when you’re near the TEXpress lanes), and your phone’s metadata (including device type, battery level, and an accelerometer that tracks speed). GoCarma also collects your email address, name, password, home or work address, vehicle license plate, registration status, and transmitter type.

Auto insurance discounts

Now, with all that automatic monitoring in my Beacon-Mobile device, what’s more?

At first I was “no, no, no” at State Farm’s offer of a small discount up front and then a bigger offer if my drive turned out to be good enough.

My insurance agent, Shalen Clark, who I call the Queen of Hearst Insurance, was very persuasive when explaining how the Drive Safe & Save program works.

But she caught my eye when she said, “And it won’t track you down if you go to Baby Dolls.”

For Texas newcomers, Baby Dolls is probably the most popular club in Dallas-Fort Worth. Just hearing the words “baby dolls” come out of the mouth of a major and proper Hearst Queen insurance company was enough to make me laugh.

And as soon as I loosened that joke, I was putty in her hands. I agreed to take part in another trial.

Karen strongly opposes this. After I showed her a list of what was being tracked, she became defiant.

“No way!” She said.

State Farm Drive is safe and preserved

What exactly is State Farm after?

Acceleration – Excessive speed does not help.

Braking – “any quick hard stops” that indicate that you are closely following other drivers.

Cornering – Avoid fast and sharp turns.

Phone Distraction – Does your phone move while you’re driving? Does the screen come on?

Speed ​​- Captured if you exceed the speed limit by more than 8 mph.

But nothing about baby dolls. (Karen will track it down, and she promises it won’t be worth measuring.)

After each ride, a map of your route appears on the screen, indicating any problem areas.

It’s almost as if the high school driving instructor will return as an AI.

It comes with another beacon that I have to install, and a phone app.

State Farm says future savings for safe driving can result in a discount of up to 30%. But just to get you started, the discount on a subscription, to me, is only a few bucks.

other companies

Almost all major insurance companies offer similar programs. But what they track and how their opponent works varies by company.

Travelers call its software IntelliDrive. Allstate Drivewise calls it. Geico DriveEasy offers. For Progressive it’s a shot, and for Nationwide it’s SmartRide.

I have noticed that these bookmarks and apps are causing a rapid drain on my cell phone battery.

I’m still not sure about this. But as William Shakespeare once wrote, “A humble doubt is called the beacon of the wise.”

I am setting aside my humble doubts. Is that wise? we will see. More is coming.

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Dallas Morning News The Watch Column is the 2019 winner of the National Association of Newspaper Columnists’ First Prize for Column Writing. The competition judge called his winning entries “examples of suspenseful storytelling and public service.”

Read his winning essays:

* Helping the widow of Officer J.D. Tippett, the Dallas police officer killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, to be buried next to her late husband

*Assistant to a waitress who was abused by an unscrupulous used car dealer

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