They are watching you drive (and walk, and read)

Last week I posted this on instagram:

they are watching you drive wathcing-you-drive-text
Our new car insurance company offers a substantial discount if you allow them to monitor your driving habits for a few months via a device that sits under your steering wheel. The savings is substantial, enough to make me consider it. But it sounds a little Big Brother-ish, and I won’t do just anything to save money.

But then I found out that I would have access to the information.

And I realized that I’ve been voluntarily wearing a device that tracks my activity for almost a year, and I love it.

You get what you measure. When I started tracking my steps, I started moving more. I love having this data on my activity and my sleep, and—one year in—I’m thinking about using it to track what I eat. (Anyone have experience with this?)

If my health insurance company were monitoring my how I move and when I sleep, I would feel differently about it. But I’m measuring it voluntarily because I’m the one who gets to use the data, and it makes me healthier.

Last week we talked about how digital reading produces a treasure trove of digital data. Depending on what kind of device you use and how you get your books, publishers and book sellers can track what you read and when, when you speed up and when you slow down, and the exact point at which you abandon a book entirely.

This is awesome, and kind of creepy.

I would love to see my complete e-reading history, complete with titles, times, and highlights of favorite passages, for the same reason people love to review their scrapbooks. I think having the information would also make me a more careful reader: is the book I’m about to pick up really worth my time?

But I’m not sure I would want anyone else to see it, and I definitely don’t want writers to write different books because of the data. Readers speed up when Mr. Darcy shows up in Pride and Prejudice, but does that mean Pride and Prejudice should have more Darcy scenes?


When you measure safe driving, you get safe drivers. When you measure activity, you get more steps. When you measure reading … well, we’re not really sure yet.

Technology, knowledge, and invasiveness. The possibilities are vast. The question is who gets the information, and to what end?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and personal experiences in comments. 

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  1. Annaleah says:

    This sort of thing creeps me out. I value my privacy too much. I don’t want anyone to be able to monitor what I am doing. Right now this stuff is voluntary, but soon it probably won’t be, and that does not sit well with me.

  2. Tessa~ says:

    scary! all this data collection is very, very scary, to me. but then, i’m “olden” and haven’t been exposed to all this “personal invasion” for that long, when looking at my past 77 years.

    as i said, it’s scary…. but it’s also here. -sigh- and i’ve come to take the fatalistic view that, if something can be done, it will be done.

    so, is there ever going to be a way to draw a line in the sand? sadly, i fear not.

    mmmm, is this one more reason to stick to reading _books_, for as long as our eyesight will allow it??????????????????



  3. Mallory says:

    When you measure reading you get more reading! At least I do, when I track my reading on Goodreads and challenge myself to read a specific number of books each year.

  4. Ana says:

    I don’t drive right now, but I’d be OK with that, as long as I could also see the data and use it to improve my own driving. I actually think monitoring driving may be different then some other things because your driving directly impacts everyone on the road with you—its a matter of public safety. Its a LOT more creepy and invasive feeling when its solely done for marketing purposes.

    I think it’d be helpful to have health/fitness monitoring if you are trying to lose weight or to control a specific health condition—if your dietician or doctor could actually see how much you exercised and what you ate (vs. relying on your honesty), it would probably go a lot faster for most people. If you don’t want others to see what choices you are making…it may be because you are not confident about those choices.

    I’ve been measuring my steps and tracking my calories for a week now and I’ve learned and changed SO MUCH already. I really like data, and i like challenges, so it works well for me.
    If I could save on my health insurance by having them monitor my FitBit and MFP accounts, they are welcome to it!

  5. Kim says:

    My daughter had that tracker installed on her car. Later, she had issues with her car either not starting or stalling out. The mechanics told her that the thingie sometimes creates havoc with the electrical system and causes problems. She got the car fixed, pulled out the thingie, and hasn’t had a problem of that sort since.

    I’m all for me monitoring my data so I can choose how to use the information. As far as others having it, I have a real issue with that.

  6. Steph J says:

    So, my brother had something from his insurance company in his car, and he could monitor his own data, and he found it extremely frustrating! (Not that it would be exactly the same as yours…I’m sure different companies do different things). The issue for him was the measures they used. He thought (or maybe they told him) that things like hard stops, quick acceleration, etc. would count against his score. But he said that he was driving “like a grandpa” and found it really difficult to improve his score. He actually felt like a worse driver because he didn’t want to speed up to make that lane change and instead slowed down his lane, etc. I guess my point is that one of the problems with measuring things is figuring out really meaningful measures, which can be tricky.

  7. Keri says:

    When I read the title “They are watching you drive” I initially thought that you were talking about your children. As the mother of three drivers I found out quickly that they had been watching! As I got onto my daughter for rolling through a stop sign, she just looked at me and said “Dad does it all the time.” So just remember “THEY” (the little people in your car) are watching you drive and walk and read . . . .

  8. Lisa Vachalek says:

    I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a data junky, especially since I work as a social media analyst. But I’m halfway through Dave Eggers novel “The Circle” which is now making me pause and think every time I’m about to share data about myself. If you’re looking for a modern-day dystopian novel that fits in right along with the concerns of your blog post, you should consider The Circle.

  9. Deborah says:

    I would ask what else are they doing with that data? Everyone now knows google was selling info based on them scanning your emails. Is your insurance company tracking how many times you go to the grocery or how often you drive past a particular billboard and the. Selling that info to interested companies?
    And if it is Progressive insurance can I please just beg you that no amount of money saving is worth giving that company a dime and certainly not part of your privacy.

  10. Ana says:

    That’s tough–I’m naturally pretty skittish of anyone else collecting information about me or my family. But it would be nice to have myself. I’d probably forgo getting info myself in attempts to keep it from someone else. On a completely unrelated note, are you reading Wolf Hall? I keep seeing pictures of it on your blog…it’s on my list to read, but who knows when I’ll get to it!

  11. I was sure Snapshot would save us money since we both walk to work. However, we have an estimated 0% discount after a month and a half. In looking through the reports, I discovered that my husband “hard brakes” ALL the time when he’s driving. So now I have data to back up my “backseat driving” 🙂

  12. Kristi says:

    What’s funny is, I saw this on Instagram and thought you were referring to your kids. I thought it was a reminder that our actions speak louder than words!

  13. Bronwyn Lea says:

    I wrote a post this week about my addictive driving habits, and got some amazing responses. One reader from South Africa said that her insurance company recently installed a similar type of device in her car, and they can earn bonus “points” (good driving credits/insurance discounts) for smooth driving, not too rapid breaking etc. However she said it also had a sensor which detects how often she handles her cellphone (for which you lose points!), and it took that program to make her realize just how much she was reaching for her phone “just to check” while driving. The program brought her attention to something she hadn’t realized was an increasingly bad habit – and she’s a much safer driver for it now.

  14. I love data. It’s fun, I like making charts and keeping tabs on things. The true problem is that it’s all under the guise of being controlled by you, when it never is controlled by you. All the apps on our phones, all the stuff we type, this very comment maybe, it’s all “out there” for data collection. We can never fully trust a third party to keep our privacy intact. It’s weird to stand on one side, keeping a blog and writing what I feel like writing … but at the same time wanting to fiercely protect my privacy. It can’t be done, I know. But giving control to an insurance company? I just can’t see a scenario in which you’d ever truly win on that one. It seems like more a trap to eventually impose penalties than to reward good practices.

    I do read a lot of dystopian fiction, though, so forgive my skepticism.

    • Anne says:

      “I do read a lot of dystopian fiction, though, so forgive my skepticism.”


      Wise words, including the bit about dystopian fiction. 🙂

  15. Jennifer says:

    I don’t know if it is the same in the States, but in Canada your “base” insurance rate is primarily based on the average credit score in your postal code…. Which is absurd, since there has never been any studies linking bad driving or false claims, if anything, its penalizing people who might already be financially suffering (either due to, or causing, their credit scores). I really can’t see how a machine can be an effective measure of good driving, it can’t take into effect what the driver is responding to, but I am curious how these turn out. I think it would be useful to have this technology for new drivers (their parents can talk to them about driving habits) or those who might have court-appointed anger therapy… But I’m not going to lie, I’d do it for the insurance savings if given the chance 🙂

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