Privacy crumbles yet again

Regular readers will know that personal privacy is something I value, and I regard the wholesale onslaught against it in modern society – from government, business and media – with an extremely jaundiced eye.  Two articles in the news today have made me angry about it all over again.

The first is from the Washington Post, and is titled “The new way police are surveilling you: Calculating your threat ‘score’.”  It’s a long article, and well worth reading in full.  The part that particularly troubled me was a report about the use of threat prediction software in a California city, and how it was shown to make false assumptions.

The Fresno City Council called a hearing on Beware in November after constituents raised concerns. Once council member referred to a local media report saying that a woman’s threat level was elevated because she was tweeting about a card game titled “Rage,” which could be a keyword in Beware’s assessment of social media.

Councilman Clinton J. Olivier, a libertarian-leaning Republican, said Beware was like something out of a dystopian science fiction novel and asked Dyer a simple question: “Could you run my threat level now?”

Dyer agreed. The scan returned Olivier as a green, but his home came back as a yellow, possibly because of someone who previously lived at his address, a police official said.

“Even though it’s not me that’s the yellow guy, your officers are going to treat whoever comes out of that house in his boxer shorts as the yellow guy,” Olivier said. “That may not be fair to me.”

He added later: “[Beware] has failed right here with a council member as the example.”

There’s more at the link.

Councilman Olivier made a very valid point, one that might apply to any of us.  We may be as pure as the driven snow, but if a “guilt by association” principle is applied, just being friendly with someone who – unknown to us – has criminal convictions or a predilection for illegal actions, may result in our being regarded as threats as well.  This is simply not acceptable.  It’s made even worse by the fact that it’s usually illegal to ask intrusive questions or conduct intrusive background investigations on potential employees at a business.  If one can’t say for sure that they don’t have a checkered history, legally speaking, how can one guard against being ‘tarred with the same brush’ as far as one’s business associations are concerned?

The second article, in the Wall Street Journal, noted that “Car Insurers Find Tracking Devices Are a Tough Sell“.  Here’s an excerpt.

State insurance regulators generally have welcomed usage-based insurance programs because they are voluntary and provide the opportunity for drivers to learn how to improve their driving. Still, location tracking raises bigger concerns, and not just for the privacy implications, some consumer advocates caution.

Some people could get higher pricing “not because of the manner of driving, but because of where and when they drive due to long commutes to work or driving through neighborhoods disfavored by insurers,” says Birny Birnbaum, a former Texas insurance regulator who now heads an Austin-based nonprofit, Center for Economic Justice, which advocates for low-income consumers.

Progressive’s Mr. Pratt says: “It’s too early to tell how location data may factor into determining rate.”

. . .

More detailed monitoring may be on the way. A patent issued to Allstate last year covers sensors and cameras that would record “potential sources of driver distraction within the vehicle (e.g. pets, phone usage, unsecured objects in vehicle).” The patent says sensors could “detect the content of alcohol in the air,” as well as a loud stereo or other noise. Sensors also could track nearby cars’ driving patterns.

Again, more at the link.

My initial reaction to the use of such devices is that it’s none of the insurance companies’ business . . . but they can legitimately argue that it is, literally, their business.  Will there come a day when one can’t get insurance cover at all without accepting such invasions of one’s privacy?  I fear there may.

I hate and loathe the modern tendency to minimize personal privacy and accept the broad, all-pervasive intrusions into our lives that are now so commonplace.  I guess I don’t fit very well into a Big Brother world . . . but I’m not about to change.  I’ll just have to do all I can to preserve what little privacy I have left.



  1. I've been offered the "rate-lowering" dongle, and told the insurance agent that I choose to pay more to insure my privacy. I just hope that they hear that a lot.

    For me, the scariest part of this type of driver monitoring is not that it exists, but that it will inevitably be mandated, either through government action (for our own good, dontcha know), or insurance companies pricing traditional plans out of the market.

    then …

    "We're cancelling your insurance. You accelerate too hard away from stoplights."

    "You swerved hard 3 times in a month. That's unacceptable. We don't care that you were avoiding drunk drivers or animals in the road. Statistics prove that you are not an acceptable risk."

    "We have determined that you park in areas with an unacceptable risk of theft. Therefore we are increasing your premium."

  2. Do they REALLY think such gewgaws are hackproof?

    I can just see the codeslingers giggling and cracking their knuckles now…

  3. The car sales guy stared at me like I had antlers when I said I did not want a GPS. And then really stared when I demanded to know if the model had ANY GPS or other tracking device on board. I said I dislike technology period, and I did not want any of the gew gaws. I suspect I'm now on their "odd customers" list.


  4. Welcome to freedom – by law your required to buy something. And Peter, you will be able to get insurance that does not track you it will just be considerably more expensive.

  5. Beware: Green is better than yellow is better than red? Clearly anti-Asian and anti-Amerind discrimination combined with unsubtle yet supposedly subliminal promotion of a leftist political movement.

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