Privacy: From cell phone surveillance to eyes on your car as you drive … is making privacy nerds very nervous!, we asked if cell phone surveillance is the price of ending cyber bullying. Today? An equally tough question: What happens if auto insurers get to watch you driving? That’s a real proposal!

Insurers are working with technologists in the developing industry of “insurance telematics” to sell the idea that monitoring individual driving is a lot fairer than billing people based on broad risk groups. Writer Andrew Tolve, for example, burbles “wouldn’t it be nice?” for “law-abiding, fuel-conscious” drivers to be rewarded with low premiums—and possibly some new services as a sweetener.

But it’s more than just privacy nerds who might feel chilled by this. Most of us believe our choices of where and how we drive are private, just as our car is an extension of our private property. This technology, though, could well do what some parents are already doing in tracking teenage drivers, as documented by I’m guessing few adults would be happy to know that their turn-by-turn behavior, sent from their Blackberry or iPhone, is in the hands of an insurance auditor.

Telematics systems such as OnStar already challenge some conventional wisdom on driving privacy. They combine global positioning satellite data with car electronics to operate service and safety systems. The newest version of OnStar includes theft prevention that actually lets an agent gradually disable a moving car to let police catch the thief. Of course, that means it’s also feasible for somebody to stop our car at any time.

All of us want to be safe, for sure. But our comfort level with a subscription service is a lot different than with something imposed (insurance is required by law). This is more than an academic debate: What insurers want is similar to so-called “black box” data. Congress has been wrestling with the idea of requiring extensive Black Box monitoring of driving behavior on all cars, as reported in the Washington Post.

Would you be comfortable trading privacy as you drive, for a pay-as-you-go plan?
What if monitoring brings freebies like navigation or entertainment?
Who owns your data?
And who else should have access to your private driving behavior—your healthcare provider, your boss, your creditors?

Big questions! And they’re coming soon to a car in your driveway.
So, please add a Comment! Express yourself!

TIM MORAN, the author of this week’s OurValues series, is a longtime freelance journalist whose work has appeared in national publications. Tim has written about a wide variety of topics, with concentrations in business, technology, and automotive subjects. He is a second-year graduate student at Wayne State University where he is studying history, a lifelong passion.

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