Mike Mooy can live with an insurance company spying on him, as long it saves him a few bucks. That's why the marketing executive with the Canadian Bar Association had his Mini Cooper S equipped with a black box, a device that measures how he drives and transmits the information to his insurance company.
While critics fret the new technology encroaches on privacy rights, Mooy has no such qualms. He voluntarily signed up early on to use Desjardins Insurance's black box device, the Ajusto. The small device fits under the dash and transmits real-time information on acceleration, braking, time of day and distance driven, which he can check on a website Monday to Friday.
"I'm not worried about the privacy issue," says Mooy. "It's only revealing time of day that I drive and braking and accelerating." He says it's made him a better driver and he's saving money on gas, too.
Desjardins Insurance first introduced user-based insurance (UBI) in Ontario and Quebec in May of 2013. Since then, at least five more companies have adopted similar devices that measure driving behaviour.
A five-per-cent discount is given upon signing up and at least 70,000 of its customers have done so. Most are seeing an 11 to 12 per cent reduction in their rates – which translates into about $160 a year on Mooy's car and his wife's car.
Critics say the technology sounds too Big Brother-ish, or that insurance companies may leverage individual data to hike rather than reduce rates. British insurance analysts quoted in a recent London Telegraph article predicted that drivers who won't voluntarily install a black-box device will run the risk of being declined insurance.
"We're not talking like that at all," says Joe Daly, a spokesman for Desjardins. "I can't imagine people would accept that here."
We might not have a choice, says John Lawford, who believes the British trend is "inevitable." Lawford, executive director and general consul for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, says it's a profound question for human and civil rights. The day every insurance company adopts user-based insurance, the consumer has no choice, he says: "Canadian privacy law at the moment would not stop that. If they do blow a stop sign and hit somebody, then you can be damn sure either the prosecutor or the prosecuting civil lawyer is going to ask for that information because it's relevant. So, to say it can't be used against me is 100 per cent wrong. You've given them the bullets."
If all insurance becomes behavioural-based, people who race up to stop signs or speed from time to time – but have never had an accident – will get burned, says Lawford.
Daly says the Financial Services Commission of Ontario strictly forbids using the data to penalize drivers, and any attempt to do so would destroy the company's credibility with consumers.
"That being said, we find that bad drivers generally don't sign up for the program," says Daly. "So they are self-selecting, and in a sense paying more because they don't sign up and get the discount."
While Ajusto does not measure speed, Daly notes there are systems in other jurisdictions that include speeding as an unsafe driving habit that is penalized. He points to Mobiliz, offered by Industrial Alliance in Quebec. Targeted solely at 16- to 24-year-old drivers, the program offers discounts of up to 25 per cent below standard rates in that age category, and specifically includes speed as a factor it measures.
A year after it launched Ajusto, Desjardins found that more than two-thirds of clients agreed they're more conscientious about acceleration and braking. Half believe they have become safer drivers since installing the telematics. Almost 30 per cent said they have become more conscious of how much they drive, and have tried to drive less when possible.
"I'm more conscious now of my braking and accelerations," says Mooy.
Lawford says those Canadians need to think more about their privacy. "Everybody embraced social media even though it was damn clear that you were building a profile which everybody can look at – and can be mined for all sorts of relationships.
"They gave it away for free and we all seem to live with that. The same thing is happening with insurance."
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