Are you comfortable with your car giving up your secrets?

Recent stats indicate people are becoming more aware of just how much data will be at risk

It’s been nearly five years since some Canadian car insurance companies followed their American counterparts lead and introduced telematics as a way for consumers to save on their insurance. Let us put a black box, or dongle, into your car, and we will reward you for driving like you’re taking a road test every time you get behind the wheel.

Some of us – yours truly – detested the idea. I am naturally suspicious of anything that begets a response that includes the phrase, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” That one dimensional thinking will never, ever put your personal benefit ahead of the corporate entity proposing it. Are we finally understanding just how much personal information we may be giving out, and how that information may be used or sold?

A recently released survey from, on on-line insurance marketplace comparison service, finds that people are indeed questioning the implications of constant monitoring. But the survey also tackles the question of our move to more autonomous cars; so much data is needed to advance how we drive, it can be a blurry line between the private and the practical. Where is the tipping point where a driver is surrendering more information than they perhaps intended, and who is doing what with that information?

Some of the results are expected. “Two-thirds of respondents said they are comfortable with voice assistance (e.g. Google Assistant or Siri)”. As this technology advances from muddled to very reliable, this makes sense. From a safety standpoint, it’s better to have a driver use voice assistance instead of stabbing away at a screen. Early voice activated systems were generally abysmal, but drivers have embraced this technology which has become generally good, and often excellent.

The trade-off for excellent navigational systems is, obviously, the ability of the car to transmit and receive location data. Similarly, many cars are now sporting systems that not only store vehicle data (all those codes) but also transmit it; manufacturers know when your car needs service not from a mileage guesstimate, but because the car is actually sending them the information. The survey reveals that 60 per cent of us (63 per cent men, 57 per cent women) are comfortable with that.

What your car knows about itself is one thing; what it knows about you, and what it does with that information, is another. Perhaps it’s a growing realization of the far reaching implications of hacking and data breaches, but drivers are digging in their heels about the availability of some information.’s president and CEO Andrew Lo says after initial support for drivers opting to be Big Brothered for insurance savings, now “less than half (46 per cent) of people said they were willing to share lifestyle habits and driving information.” I don’t care if I’m not doing anything wrong; I don’t want it reported back, and I don’t trust how that information will be used. We’ve been told since the inception of insurance companies using telematics that the information will only be used to reward good drivers, not to punish bad ones. Or, more correctly, those who refuse to surrender to monitoring. There is no way that argument will hold, and instead we will no doubt see drivers turned away from insurance companies if they don’t agree to some type of information gathering device or app.

“Previously, you had to physically install a device on your car to opt in,” Lo says. “Now, it can be done with a computer app.” Sounds great, but now, instead of it being your reckless teen who blows the stats on your squeal box attached to your actual car, unless you shut down the app, it could be anyone you’re driving with.

New vehicles are not just receiving information, they’re interacting with the driver. “58 per cent of the audience said they were comfortable with augmented reality or heads-up displays where speed and navigation, for example, appears on the driver’s windshield, with men being much more comfortable than women by a factor of 10 percentage points.” Heads-up displays are still most prominent on higher end vehicles, at the higher trim levels. This statistic could reflect men purchasing more in this segment.

The survey finds a further gender split on the topic of autonomous vehicles, with an overall 59 per cent of respondents being uncomfortable with them – females at 65 per cent, males at 52 per cent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “the most accepting of autonomous vehicles is the 18 to 34 demographic at 55 per cent, versus 30 per cent of middle aged (45+) respondents.” That’s a huge gap, though not a surprising one.

Andrew Lo spoke to me from the Consumers Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. He noted a key trend in thinking surrounding how manufacturers and insurance companies will tackle driver behaviour as the car takes over more and more control.

“There will be a shift from personal to commercial, with the risk shifting away from the driver and onto software developers and car manufacturers,” he explained. He cites Tesla teaming with specific insurance companies (in Canada, Aviva) and sees it as a sign of things to come.

If someone got hold of your personal computer or accessed what it held, you’d have no secrets left. Your vehicle is getting close to acquiring the same level of information.

Maybe in the name of safety. But maybe not.

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One response to Are you comfortable with your car giving up your secrets?

  1. Pat says:

    If they want to know that I drive to No Frills twice a week, and once to the garbage transfer station, have at it.
    And I’d like to see an autonomous vehicle go off road where there’s no cell or GPS service.

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