Distracted driving has become one of the most pressing public health concerns of our time. Even though public awareness campaigns and billboards tell us not to text and drive, let’s face it: we all do it. Smartphone use has become part of the fabric of existence for many people, and it can be difficult to put the phone down for a few minutes, even when operating the giant metal death trap that is the automobile. Many states have enacted new “E-DUI” laws in an attempt to curb the problem, but in-car phone use is still rampant. To help fight this growing health problem, auto insurance giant Allstate has launched a new unit called Arity designed with one goal in mind: to track its policyholders’ phone use while driving, and drivers who use their smartphones while their cars are moving could see their insurance premiums go up. Is this a necessary measure to save lives, or an intrusion of privacy?
Arity’s technology works by analyzing the data collected by the accelerometers inside smartphones – the gizmos which sense movement and speed. Together, these can show when users are in vehicles and whether or not phones were lying prone at high speeds or were being picked up during those times. Arity has already analyzed data from over 160 million trips taken by Allstate customers and found that distracted drivers cost Allstate 160% more than drivers who do not use their phones while driving. Arity CEO Gary Hallgren told CNN that while their vision sounds like yet another dystopian data grab by a money-hungry corporation, it’s actually about “giving driver’s more control:”
We believe that people are coachable and that by driving less aggressively, using the phone less, there are opportunities to not only give a more accurate insurance price based on choices, but to give drivers more control.
Sure, Gary, whatever you say. Allstate is now mulling over whether or not to force its customers to turn over their accelerometer data to Arity so that auto premiums could be based on whether policyholders are distracted while driving or not. While distracted driving needs to be stopped, I can’t help but think that this idea sits firmly atop a slippery slope leading down to a particularly Orwellian nightmare future. As corporations start leveraging our personal data against us in cold, unforgiving ways, we might soon have to start policing our own behaviors against our wills even in private just so that we can access basic goods and services. Is that any worse than being killed by a texting teenager?