Data Driven?

Is ICBC’s new pilot project driving app just another way to invade our privacy, or a smart safety move?  

Freya Wasteneys// Managing Editor 

ICBC recently put out a call for 7000 novice drivers (with less than five years of experience) to put their cell phones to good use. Somewhat ironically, it turns out your cell phone may very well be your key to safety on the road, with the help of a small in-vehicle device.  

The new pilot project will track the driving behaviours of participants through a telematics device linked to an app on the driver’s cellphone. From the data collected from in-vehicle feedback, a performance score will be produced. In the initial tests, 40 per cent of drivers saw an improvement in their driving, and the insurance company claims that this will be an effective way to make roads safer and possibly lower insurance rates. Too convenient? 

Thanks to the number of privacy hacks and big data scams in recent years, it’s hard not to feel at least a little hesitant about handing over our driving data to an insurance company.  ICBC does not have the greatest track record in terms of customer satisfaction after all, and has little incentive to improve as B.C.’s monopolized auto insurer.  

But with the worst drivers and the worst insurance rates in the country, it seems ICBC may finally be looking for ways to improve its dismal ratings. In 2018 B.C. drivers paid an average annual rate of $1,680—numbers which have only risen since, according to a fact sheet by ARC Insurance. Meanwhile novice drivers, who ICBC reports as 5.6 times more likely to be involved in a crash, have insurance rates that range “from exorbitant to utterly unaffordable” according to the Globe and Mail.   

Clearly something has to change, but a 2014 report from Deloitte shows that widespread acceptance of the project has not always been guaranteed due to privacy concerns and a lack of trust in technology. 

And maybe we should be concerned. A decade ago, big data was touted as the solution to every problem, and now it’s at the centre of almost every controversial issue in our public discourse. Think Facebook, Google, Uber, Huawei and Amazon—no favours there.  

Despite the skepticism however, Aaron Sutherland, vice president of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, assured the public that ICBC is not allowed to use the data to increase insurance prices, but can in fact be used to decrease insurance rates by up to 25 per cent. While we keep trying to find a flaw in the proposed system, so far, it’s looking fairly airtight—to the chagrin of ICBC’s many love-to-hate-ers.  

Of course, it’s good and necessary to be vigilant about privacy, but these days it seems like there is little rational thought attached to what we deem unsafe and what we deem worthy. Just think of the last time you gave your data to Facebook in exchange for your celebrity look alike or spirit animal. Many of us blatantly throw our privacy away for lesser things on such a frequent basis that we don’t even think about it. We invite smart devices into our homes, readily input our banking information online, and take very few measures to protect our privacy, accepting, at a certain point, that our vulnerability is inevitable. 

What it really calls into question is where we draw the line and why. In the case of the ICBC pilot project, this may just be one of those situations where the benefits are real and credible, and the rewards actually outweigh the risks. So why is it that we tend to throw our information willingly at companies that we know are disreputable, but then often feel skeptical of initiatives that promise a positive impact?  

Despite being a data driven society, it turns out we’re all a little susceptible to emotional decision making. In the grand scheme of things, trading a bit of data and privacy to save money and lives is not the worst deal of all time.  

We remain,  

Sincerely yours,

Cautiously Optimistic About This Project.  

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