Home » Carmakers Are Sneakily Sharing Your Driving Data With Insurance Companies But What’s Worse Is That The Data Is Crap

Carmakers Are Sneakily Sharing Your Driving Data With Insurance Companies But What’s Worse Is That The Data Is Crap

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A few days ago, The New York Times had a story that simultaneously both felt alarming and at the same time entirely expected. The story was about how carmakers are sending driving data to insurance companies, with data broker firm LexisNexis acting as a middleman. This data is then used for insurance companies to, usually, it seems, jack up rates. There’s all sorts of troubling implications about this, but I think one of the least discussed ones is that the data being gathered really doesn’t make sense as the basis of deciding whether or not a particular driver is “safe” or not, and really shouldn’t be used to adjust a driver’s insurance premiums.

The mechanism by which this data is gathered and sent off to be judged are via connected car applications like GM’s Smart Driver, which tracks metrics like distance driven, average speed, hard acceleration, hard braking, and late night driving (between midnight and 4 am). Other carmakers have very similar systems, but for the moment I’m going to look at the GM one as a representative of this phenomenon.

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Long before the NYT article came out, owners had been noticing that their data was being tracked, sometimes alerted to this fact if they happen to live in a state with laws that require notification if certain data-tracking criteria are met. One such state is Colorado, which is where the Reddit user that posted this year-ish old post lives:

Chevrolet Smart Driver is really freaking creepy. Here’s how to turn it off.

Got some vague letter in the mail from LexisNexis about how Colorado law requires me to be notified when I have a certain number of red flag something-or-others on my account. When I tried to figure out if my identity was stolen or something, I was able to get a huge report about myself. Part of it was about every trip I’ve made in that car. No location data, but date, time, distance, VIN, and events (Acceleration, Hard brake, and High speed). Mind you, this was NOT from a GM-internal report, it was one of those companies that do credit reporting and the like. So GM must be sharing this. It took some fumbling around to figure it out, but here’s how I was able to unenroll:

  1. Log in to the myChevrolet app

  2. Go to More

  3. Tap Chevrolet Smart Driver

  4. Here you can see all the stuff that’s tracked and shared. On top, there’s a Driving Activity drop-down that doesn’t immediately look like a drop-down. Click that, and Enrollment Settings

  5. Ignore the “Program Overview” thing that tries to justify it’s creepy existence. Well, I guess you can look if you want. But be sure to tap Unenroll

  6. Pick a reason (I chose Other because there is no “this is creepy AF” option) and click Unenroll again

  7. Click OK at the pathetic notification that they’ll miss tracking you

  8. Let your state’s attorney general know that you don’t appreciate being tracked (and data shared, tied to you personally) without explicitly opting in to a program.

As the NYT article emphasizes, this owner was not aware that this data was being shared by GM to a third party – LexisNexis – who then sells that data to insurance providers, who can use it to adjust the rates their clients pay. Now, if you are aware that this data is being tracked at all, a car owner could see much of this data, and the “driving score” that is computed from the data, via the Smart Driver app:

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Of course, it’s still not obvious that this information is being shared by any organization other than GM, and it’s definitely not clear that these results could be used to crank up your insurance premiums. The data is presented in a gamified way, encouraging drivers to try for higher scores.

There are so many problems with all of this, from data privacy to consumer rights and so on, but it’s also worth noting that the metrics used here really have nothing to do with whether a driver is safe or not.

What these metrics appear to be steering a driver toward is a sort of languid, easy, calm sort of driving experience, which I suppose isn’t inherently bad, but it’s also a horrible way to measure a safe driver because it’s a set of criteria completely removed from the environment and situation that the car is actually being driven in.

Take the “hard braking” metric, for example. It’s treated as a negative, with scores lowering if you have a lot of hard braking incidents. But there are absolutely times while driving where you want to brake, and brake hard. If a kid or deer or a kid on a deer or dog or tortoise or whatever bolts out unexpectedly in front of you, a safe driver will apply their brakes, hard. Soft, gradual braking is not safe in such a situation, but the data gathering does not appear to take the overall situation into account.

Same goes for hard acceleration; there are times when the safe thing to do is to get out of the way of something, fast, and that means accelerating hard. Sometimes you need to merge from a short on-ramp onto a fast moving highway – I remember sections of the 134 and 2 highways around Pasadena, California being like that – and if you didn’t accelerate quickly, you’d be putting yourself and cars behind you in some genuine peril.

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And don’t get me started on the “Late Night Driving” metric; some people work night shifts! Perhaps statistically there’s more wrecks in those hours, but there are also plenty of valid and safe reasons to drive whenever the hell you want.

Even average speed is deceptive; if most of your driving is on large, open highways with a speed limit of 70+, should you be penalized for having a high average speed?

Fundamentally, the issue here is that these sort of driving scores attempt to make people drive to satisfy a set of criteria that has nothing to do with the actual driving situation the driver is in. You should drive based on what is happening immediately around your car. If you can drive slowly and gently, wonderful, but if you need to react quickly to a situation around your car, the safe thing is to do just that, arbitrary driving scores on your phone be damned.

The truth is that none of this driving score bullshit is for the benefit of the driver. Even if they displayed the driving score in real time on your dash so you can work to maximize it, that wouldn’t really help, because the “score” is meaningless. The data that gets sent, sneakily, from your car to your insurance provider is not really there to help you. It’s there because it may help the insurance company make money, and we all know that.

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If this was genuinely for safety reasons, there is one thing that an insurance company could do: they could use the car’s Bluetooth capabilities to pair with the driver’s phone upon entry to the car, and then disable most of the non-emergency uses of that phone. Allow maps/navigation, maybe some music playing, and emergency calls, and that’s it. The biggest threat to driving safety today is distracted driving, and if insurance companies want safer drivers, they can take care of that.

If a driver opts into such a program, then the insurance company should cut their premiums by some decent amount, since they know that driver will not be distracted texting or watching TikTok or live-streaming for their OnlyFans. The problem is such a program doesn’t offer any means to increase premiums, so I suspect it’ll be a non-starter.

Safe drivers adjust their driving to the situation in the real world that surrounds their car, not some gamified set of inane rules.

Cars – well, modern, internet-connected cars – are already known to be some of the worst offenders of not respecting your privacy of almost any product out there. Hell, remember when we learned that Kia and Nissan reserved the right to learn about the “sexual activity” of their customers? It’s bad! It’s safest to just assume modern, connected cars will be gathering and selling as much data as they legally can. At the moment, that doesn’t seem to include specific location data, but it does include the number of trips driven, how long they last, when they occurred, and so much more. The realization that this information is going to insurance companies to rat you out is depressing but expected. It’s not even particularly secret, once you start looking. LexisNexis even published a press release about it in 2022.

The carmakers, the insurance companies, and LexisNexis are not doing any of this for you. They’re trapping drivers in an ill-fitting set of driving criteria that is doomed to bite you in the ass, at some point. If you have a modern, connected car, I encourage you to get LexisNexis to send you their Consumer Disclosure Report so you can see for yourself just what data is being collected. You can also collect a report from Verisk, who works with GM, Hyundai, and Honda.

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Or, you can buy a charming old car, free of any internet anything! If they want to track you in your, say, 1964 Chevy Corvair Monza, let those bastards get in their car and come find you.

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TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
30 days ago

I’ve had a number of insurance companies over the years try to sell me on their OBD dongle that tracks your driving to give you better rates. We won’t raise them if we dont like your driving, we promise! Have always turned them down. Zero interest in giving them the data to do this. My accident free driving record should speak for itself.

James Carson
James Carson
30 days ago

Drive an older non-connected vehicle. Immediate premium rate; BC higher risk. Drive an old heap, immediate premium rate; BC higher risk. Drive a new or newish vehicle and run it disconnected or optioned without telemetry, immediate premium rate; BC higher risk. They’ll find a way to cover you whatever u do. You will be assimilated.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
30 days ago

If you’re hard braking on a regular basis, you’re an unsafe driver. Occasional hard taking is necessary. It should not be a daily occurrence unless you’re riding people’s asses or going way too fast

Accordian
Accordian
1 month ago

I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re also getting that data from whatever GPS we use on our phones that track speed too.

Evan M
Evan M
1 month ago

Right before this came out I was considering trading my 2013 Volvo for a newer car. I even went on some test drives, but I felt weird about getting rid of a car that I’ve owned since new and feels like the end of an era, being the last manual, dumb Volvo sold in the US.
Two weeks later I’ve decided to keep the Volvo for at least another year because holy crap this is even worse than all the creepy stuff every other company and app does.

Turbotictac
Turbotictac
1 month ago

Gee, I sure hope my 99 Miata isn’t tracking me

Turbeaux
Turbeaux
1 month ago
Reply to  Turbotictac

More importantly, are you tracking it?

Turbotictac
Turbotictac
1 month ago
Reply to  Turbeaux

Not yet, I bring shame on my family

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
1 month ago

Thanks for the article. It prompted me to turn this feature off for my VW. Not that I trust it actually did anything.

Black Peter
Black Peter
1 month ago
Reply to  Pupmeow

Care to share the location of that setting? In the app or the car?

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
30 days ago
Reply to  Black Peter

Of course! I should have thought of that in my original comment.

In the myVW app, go to Account (little dude in the bottom right) –> Vehicle Management –> Subscriptions –> DriveView. There you can unsubscribe from some or all features.

So easy and intuitive! /s

Black Peter
Black Peter
29 days ago
Reply to  Pupmeow

Sweet.. I’m only enrolled in remote access.
Thanks!!

76Eldorado
76Eldorado
1 month ago

The problem that I have always had with any of this data collection BS is it is always referred to as it being “your data” in every news article. So if it is my data what gives them the right to sell it and not give me my cut of the sale. I think that instead of bitching about opting out or in. We should be demanding our cut. The companies that sell it should only be entitled to a small transaction fee my 2-5%. That way it becomes unprofitable to do any of this shit

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
1 month ago

I have to believe that these are set up to re-activate themselves after a power down. Change the battery? ReBoot!

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
1 month ago

Reason number 317,547 why I have no desire to ever own a car built after, say, 2014. Admittedly, this plan has serious logistical downsides in the long term, so I strongly support any efforts to *make outrageous things like this illegal right now* before these practices become completely normalized.
As a note to folks in the new car market: “wow, neat, I can turn on the seat heater with an app on my phone!” is not enough of a benefit to justify these directly related downsides of owning a ‘connected’ car. Stop it. Don’t financially incentivize automakers to continue down this road. Don’t be like Hansel and voluntarily climb into the witch’s oven just because she offered some candy.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
1 month ago

Anyone who signs up for one of these programs IS the problem; soon this will be a requirement and it will be because they allowed it. To me, this is what “be ungovernable” is supposed to be about.

VanGuy
VanGuy
1 month ago

Torch, thanks for including the link the Mozilla report. I’m glad you’re including this kind of thing in your reporting, because it warrants so much more attention than it gets.

Easily, that’s all the biggest reasons I wouldn’t want a newer car. And it’s a damn shame that basically all EVs fit into that category, too.

I installed an Android Auto head unit in my car, but it should have zero connectivity when my phone’s not connected to it–and aside from Maps, it shouldn’t really be giving much specific data…I hope. But either way, navigation quashes other concerns at that point.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
1 month ago

Anyone watch the Black Mirror? That’s where we’re at now

Ronan McGrath
Ronan McGrath
1 month ago

I generally avoid any manufacturer sign on. Most of the services are of little interest to me. However, like many I use Waze as my nav system which means using location services on my phone. I would be interested to know what Apple does with this data.

Will not go for the Corvair. Maybe an International Scout.

Clupea Hangoverus
Clupea Hangoverus
1 month ago
Reply to  Ronan McGrath

Waze is a Google subsidiary… Is it possible to use it without data connection?

3WiperB
3WiperB
1 month ago

The data is another scary part of AI. It’s a lot of work to sort through this data, but AI is making it much easier. Every year it gets harder and harder to ignore all the targeted marketing, products, and services that keep people being good little consumers. The marketing efforts do a great job of keeping people in debt and unsatisfied with their lives. It goes so far beyond car tracking.

Ben
Ben
1 month ago
Reply to  3WiperB

I’m doing a bunch of AI classes for work right now (because everything these days has to incorporate AI, whether it makes sense or not) and it’s a little scary how they look at data ethics. For example, they are up front about the fact that the customer for the credit rating companies is not the consumer, it’s the lender. The consumer is the product. Which leads to the question of whether the product has a right to know why its credit score is bad.

Extend this to every company that is collecting tracking data on you now, and how many of them do you think are going to make the consumer-friendly decision on that? Yeah, me neither.

FndrStrat06
FndrStrat06
1 month ago

Allstate won’t stop asking me to sign up for their monitoring dongle-based DriveWise program, even though I’ve said no 500 times. Like I’d ever be okay with them actively monitoring me to jack my rates because I had to hard brake once because someone cut me off.

Jj
Jj
1 month ago
Reply to  FndrStrat06

As long as that driver didn’t drastically brake or accelerate while swerving into your lane to cut you off, their rates will stay low.

Mrbrown89
Mrbrown89
1 month ago

I was enrolled on Chevy Smart Driver program mostly to monitor my driving but also to check on the car if I had a dealership appointment and see driving behaviors, or if I borrowed a car to a family member just to keep an eye (my brother in law never wear his seatbelt for example lol).

As soon I saw the article from the NYT, I called Onstar and told them to cancel everything. The app started to glitch when the article came out, I dont know if they were making changes but Smart Driver wasnt working for a few days. Hopefully they got the message, they are always trying to screw us over.

MDMK
MDMK
1 month ago

I knew immediately the telemetric dongles insurance companies like Progressive were heavily advertising as a way for drivers to save money on their insurance actually served the opposite purpose to give them just cause to quickly “adjust” their premiums higher based on their driving experiences. Swerve to avoid a squirrel? That’s another $100 per year.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
1 month ago
Reply to  MDMK

It’s should have been painfully obvious to literally everyone.
I overheard a MAGA-wearing older dude on the LIRR train moaning about how his insurance had gone up as the result of opting into Progressive’s monitoring program. I was dying from laughter at the thought that someone so suspicious of surveillance had signed up for something like this and also that he hadn’t understood at all what it entailed.

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