Tuesday 12 March 2024

Automakers Under Scrutiny for Sharing Consumers’ Driving Data with Insurance Companies


Kenn Dahl, a meticulous driver and owner of a software company, was puzzled when his car insurance surged by 21 percent in 2022. Driving a leased Chevrolet Bolt and having never caused an accident, Mr. Dahl was at a loss.

The steep increase in rates, as he learned, was partially influenced by his LexisNexis report, an extensive log of his driving behavior obtained by his insurance company, the New York Times reported.

LexisNexis, a data brokerage with a division specializing in auto insurance risk, sent Mr. Dahl a 258-page report upon request, revealing detailed data on over six months of driving—data that he never imagined would be shared.

“It felt like a betrayal,” Mr. Dahl told NYT. “They’re taking information that I didn’t realize was going to be shared and screwing with our insurance.” 

Automakers, including General Motors, have engaged in collecting and sharing driving data with insurance companies. These details include when and how the car is driven—speed, braking intensity, and rapid accelerations—although the exact locations remain undisclosed.

This practice is not limited to drivers who willingly participate in usage-based insurance programs. In fact, Ford Motor’s patent application acknowledges the reluctance of drivers to actively share this data, prompting car companies to gather it passively through internet-connected vehicles, the news outlet reported.

The implications for consumer privacy are significant. OnStar’s Smart Driver, a GM service, has been a focal point of criticisms. While GM insists that the service is optional and tied to benefits, some customers, like Mr. Dahl, have experienced rate hikes without explicit consent.

New York Times reported:

Mr. Dahl shared his experience on an online forum for Chevy Bolt enthusiasts, on a thread where other people expressed shock to find that LexisNexis had their driving data. Warnings about the tracking are scattered across online discussion boards dedicated to vehicles manufactured by G.M. — including Corvettes, a sports car designed for racking up “acceleration events.” (One driver lamented having data collected during a “track day,” while testing out the Corvette’s limits on a professional racetrack.)

Numerous people on the forums complained about spiking premiums as a result. A Cadillac driver in Palm Beach County, Fla., who asked not to be named because he is considering a lawsuit against G.M., said he was denied auto insurance by seven companies in December. When he asked an agent why, she advised him to pull his LexisNexis report. He discovered six months of his driving activity, including many instances of hard braking and hard accelerating, as well as some speeding.

“I don’t know the definition of hard brake. My passenger’s head isn’t hitting the dash,” he said. “Same with acceleration. I’m not peeling out. I’m not sure how the car defines that. I don’t feel I’m driving aggressively or dangerously.”

When he finally obtained car insurance, through a private broker, it was double what he had previously been paying.

The Cadillac owner, Mr. Dahl and the drivers on the forums had all been enrolled in OnStar Smart Driver. OnStar is G.M.’s Internet-connected service for its cars and Smart Driver is a free, gamified feature within G.M.’s connected car apps (all part of OnStar, but branded MyChevrolet, MyBuick, MyGMC and MyCadillac).

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