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The Digital Cage

Filed under: — Greg @ 7:12 pm

CNN reports a pilot program to put little “black box” recorders in cars. Unlike in planes, however, these recorders phone home to let your insurance company keep tabs on how you drive.

The assertion is that this tech will be used “only for potential discounts and not to penalize customers whose devices reveal risky driving habits”, which I claim is preposterous. Consider the equilibrium at work here. The company collects $x in premiums and pays out $y in claims. If they discount people with certain recorded driving habits, then guess what? They still need to pay $y in claims, so they still need to collect $x in premiums. If the “good” drivers are paying less of $x, then the rest of the customers will, by definition, end up with higher rates.

You could claim that I’m oversimplifying things, and I probably am. But if these black boxes ever become prevalent (or even mandatory) , I really believe this will happen. On the other hand, it might actually be a benefit after all. Right now the companies use statistics based on your age, type of car, previous history, etc. to make the same decisions. If you think about it, it’s not really any less offensive to be charged based on these general demographic factors than based on how you do, in fact, drive.

Getting back to the black box though… This presents a sobering, if not unexpected escalation in the war between privacy and our increasingly digital, connected lives. I don’t believe our current privacy laws are equipped to deal with this type of situation, any more than our current copyright laws are sensible where digital media is concerned.

Unlike most people who rant on these topics, I don’t have a pet solution to advocate. All I can offer is this quote from Heinlein:

Laws to sweep back the tide never do work

In other words, I believe that a long term solution must involve re-thinking the problems instead of simply trying to patch existing laws (or worse, trying to apply them as-is).

Having said that, what new law has been created regarding digital rights and privacy has been almost obscenely skewed against individual rights. In these considerations, I believe that we should lean in favor of the individual, simply because individuals often lack the resources to make their voice heard against the louder wishes of industry, government, or other collective entities. I do not mean to villify said entities, of course. It’s just that, well, how many lobbyists do you have working for you right now? Lawyers? Funds at your disposal? Yeah, so I just think it’s a bit of a rigged game is all.

One response to “The Digital Cage”

  1. Greg says:

    Today I was sent this link on even more insidious car black-box devices that are probably in YOUR vehicle right now! Man, you think you can trust your car, and then this.

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