Blog: Automotive Security

Discrimination by telematics?

Tom Roberts 09 May 2016


There are many different types of telematics available, but here I want to look at those relating to vehicle insurance.

“Drive well and you will save money on your car insurance” which sounds an excellent offer.

However, the inverse is less pleasant:

“Don’t drive so well or don’t allow your behaviour to be monitored and you pay more”

No doubt monitoring will help reduce accidents by making some drivers more aware of their behaviour on the road.

What about when telematics are used for DISCRIMINATION?

Less than perfect driving isn’t always optional – as we grow older some of our visual, cognitive and physical abilities degrade. Should we be making older drivers pay more?

What about those with other impairments? Are we saying that more vulnerable members of our society should be paying more for insurance?

Finally, what about people who simply don’t want to participate in a scheme that means their every driving moment is tracked by a corporation?

No doubt insurers will argue that telematics will provide a saving on policy costs, but I think we all suspect that non-participants will actually just have their policies loaded instead.

Remember the movie Gattaca?

Your career path and life choices are forged by your genes. Discriminated against before you are even born.


Is this another step towards similar discrimination? Corporations incentivising a particular type of behaviour, then later forcing it?

Constant monitoring and manipulation

The likely insidious use of telematics is that it’ll be used as a historical analysis of your abilities. On the face of it there is no counter argument to it. If you perform well then you are rewarded with lower fees and if you don’t then it’s probably best you be priced out of the driver pool to prevent harm to others.

No rational person would argue against this, or would they? I’m a rational man, or at least like to consider myself one. I don’t consider myself a great driver, nor do I consider myself a bad driver, but I know a system that can be gamed when I see one. The use of “spot” based telematics or systems that only take a sample of your driving is flawed in that it can be manipulated by getting others to drive for you or driving in a manner which is not your normal methods or pattern. Thus the only solution is that of constant monitoring (or as I see it, as it will become).

Such constant monitoring will mean that you could be penalised for avoiding a squirrel in the road or swerving to avoid a child’s ball that has rolled into the road. These would be actions of an empathetic person but may incur a financial cost If such actions are deemed reckless.

No doubt some bright spark will come up with a solution for authentication based on your unique driving style at some point in the future. Telematic biometrics anyone? A profile owned by your insurance company or the telematics provider. That doesn’t sound Big Brother-like at all, does it?!

The counter argument

Refusing to participate in monitoring will just mean that the only people able to make a truly free choice will be those willing or able to afford it. This is “freedom by price” and is a system that historically leads to a broken society. If freedom is equivalent to the amount of money you have then financial slavery exists and companies can enforce behaviour on the majority while allowing anyone who can afford it to buy their way out of it. This discrepancy will cause those who can’t afford it to break the law to achieve it. The laws of escalation and demand will come into force and such systems will come under pressure from the ingenuity and cleverness of people to overcome a barrier to freedom.

Some would argue that this creates a self-administering system and that consumer choice will drive the technology, but if supply is limited and choice cannot be actioned then the economic theories of monopoly exist and this creates an unbalanced system that can create tensions and abuses.


The constant monitoring and possible disclosure of information to third parties could have its own implications. While I am sure that criminals will be caught using this technology, they will adapt and overcome it or use another method as criminals are often want to do. That will leave the system of monitoring and data collection for the rest of us. And do we need our every movement tracked and analysed. Do we want it?

Once that data is created it will need to pay its way, and that means capitalising on it in some manner. The car will turn into a glorified loyalty card that tracks your preferences and favourite hangouts. You may even be manipulated to take a route that involves a sponsors or advertisers’ roadside advertising or amenities.

Some of this is farfetched I realise but no-one expected the banner ad in the early days of the internet. The pop-up ad came from that and now malware resides in potential advertising. These things evolve and the lack of human control or personal choice in such things raises both great possibilities and horrible abuses.

In conclusion

Telematics is a good technology that could be and no doubt will be abused by companies, hackers and politicians to enforce a desired behaviour. The question we have to ask is… who is setting the standards of that behaviour and to what loyalty do they serve, the greater good or the acquisition of wealth? Have they created a system that enforces behaviour to the masses while allowing a small percentage of the population to opt out? Will technology enforce that system while giving the idea that we have freewill?