Berkshire Hathaway
Re: Pay as you go, threat to GEICO's model?

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By MarkHiatt
August 20, 2004

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[This post concerns the installation in many cars of so-called "black boxes." They record operating data that may be used by insurance companies, law enforcement, and rental companies.]

This is another one of those interesting areas where technology has outstripped The Law.

If you buy many new cars, in addition to that famous New Car Smell, you're also getting a little black box, very similar to those installed in airliners. It records and continuously overwrites the last umpteen minutes of your cars' life.

Whose data is that? Is it yours because you're the driver? Is it Ford's because they built the car and decide what kinds of computers to put in it and on it? What if you're leasing or renting the car? Whose data is it, then? Suppose you buy a gleaming new $5000-off Compensator SUV and hang it in a tree, somewhere. Who gets to see the data, then?

Can police just download it? What if they don't have to plug anything in to get it? What if the chip can be coaxed to just give up the data in a low-power broadcast that anyone in any shopping mall parking lot could monitor? Can your insurance company look into the box any time they want, or just when they're about to pay a claim or set your rates and send out your bill? What about cases when the box is destroyed or unhooked? What if automakers expand these tools, the way the aviation people have?

Originally, all we recovered was compass heading, airspeed and altitude information. Now there are sensors and recordings of hundreds of datapoints. Rudder pedal deflection. Steering wheel input, throttle settings. Even whether or not some lights were on. How long a loop can they record before it gets to be invasive, or is there a limit? Can your insurance company ping your car and have it report back overnight the highest recorded speed it reached that day, plus a GPS tracing of the route of travel? Compare the two and see that, while you never reach 70mph, you routinely travel 45mph in a 35mph zone? Tattle on you for having your radio up above "7" or "9"? Literally narc on you for driving in That Part of Town, but only stopping once for the time it takes to exchange money for drugs?

I dunno. But I don't like the way it's starting to look like this movie ends.

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