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

A privacy dispute broke out in my house. My wife Karen wants to protect her privacy by preventing our new insurance company from tracking her driving.

Much to my surprise, I decided to agree to tracking so I could test their system, see if it would make me a better driver, and oh, that’s a potential discount too.

Privacy versus discount. Exchange one for the other. This is the dilemma of the 21st century. Have you come across this solution in your household?

Wait until you hear what my new insurance company is tracking. But first, I need to tell you about other tracking devices that I already have in my car.


Forget about the location service app on my smartphone that is already tracking me. In addition, I agreed to two other tracking devices in my car. Everyone has their own “beacon” to measure my movements, either through a phone application or through a small square device that works via Bluetooth.

The first is a study I signed up for by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute called “Using Behavioral Economics to Better Understand the Use of Managed Lane.” I translate it like this: “Why do some drivers drive on toll roads, while others do not?” The study is funded by the Federal Highway Administration. Entry fee is $250.

For three months, an app on my phone will use GPS to track my movements as I enter toll roads that offer a choice of adjacent fast lanes. What will I choose?

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

I signed up because I’m curious why most of the time our free lanes are full and some toll roads are often empty. I don’t believe the current system works the way it should.

The Watchdog describes an underused program that cuts TEXpress road toll costs in half.(David Lieber)

Second lighthouse

The second tracking device in my car is the GoCarma app, which checks to see if there are two people in the car during peak hours. If available, drivers receive a 50% discount on their fares on TEXpress lanes only. (On Interstate 635, the installation runs all day, not just during peak hours.)

So far, the North Central Texas Council of Governments reports that 57,000 drivers have signed up for the program. It’s not much in a region with millions, but I’m sure most people haven’t heard of it.

I have an app on my phone but I keep forgetting to open it. The way it works is that my passenger should also have the app on their phone. The signal then shows two smartphones in the same car. This should generate a 50% discount.

This is the third version of a techno solution to reward drivers who have a second passenger in the pool.

The first version, released a few years ago, required drivers to register on a website 15 minutes before their trip with an announcement that they would have a second passenger. Annoying, for sure.

The second version included a “passenger pass” that you had to keep in the glove compartment when you had a second passenger.

In the third version, there is no passenger pass and only a phone app is used for tracking.

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

Auto insurance discounts

Now, with all this automatic surveillance in my Beacon-Mobile, what else?

First I was “no, no, no” to the state farm’s offer of a small discount up front, and then more if my driving was good enough.

My insurance agent, Shalin Clark, whom I call the queen of Hurst insurance company, explained very convincingly how the Drive Safe & Save program works.

But she got my attention when she said, “And he won’t track you if you go to Baby Dolls.”

For newcomers to Texas, Baby Dolls is probably the best known strip club in Dallas and Fort Worth. Just hearing the words “Dolly” come out of the mouth of the prim and proper insurance company Queen of Hurst was enough to make me laugh.

And as soon as she softened me with this joke, I was in her hands. I agreed to take part in another experiment.

Karen is very against it. After I showed her the list of what is being tracked, she became defiant.

“Never!” she said.

State Farm Drive Safe & Save

What exactly does State Farm track?

Acceleration – too fast is not good.

· Braking – “Any quick, hard stops” indicating that you are following other drivers too closely.

· Cornering – avoid fast and sharp turns.

Phone distraction. Does your phone move when you are driving? Does the screen light up?

· Speed ​​- captures if you exceed the speed limit by more than 8 miles per hour.

But nothing about dolls. (Karen will track it down and she promises it won’t be measured.)

After each trip, a map of your route is displayed on the screen indicating problem areas.

It’s like having your high school driving instructor back as artificial intelligence.

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

State Farm says future savings on safe driving could result in up to 30% off. But to begin with, the registration discount for me is only a few dollars.

Other companies

Almost all major insurance companies offer similar programs. But what they track and how their discount works depends on the company.

Travelers call their program IntelliDrive. Allstate calls it Drivewise. Geico offers DriveEasy. For Progressive it’s Snapshot and for Nationwide it’s SmartRide.

I have noticed that these beacons and apps are causing my cell phone battery to drain quickly.

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

I cast aside my humble doubts. Is it wise? We will see. Not all.

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