Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday, 18 August 2004

Big Brother (aka your friendly motor insurer) is watching

Norwich Union is piloting in-car vehicle tracking devices with the aim of allowing insurance premia to be paid monthly based on a vehicle's journey characteristics (distance, location, etc etc). It is being 'sold' as a way of allowing low-mileage drivers, in particular, to reduce their premium payments, although it is accepted that high-mileage drivers could end up paying more.

At one level, and indeed when I first read this report, this sounds like a 'good thing', but after a few moments reflection the other aspects of this development began to become clear. A private company, with an interest in making a profit (fair enough) will come to know a great deal about one's movements (or at least those of one's vehicle). How, exactly, will this information be used? To which organisations outside of Norwich Union will the gathered information be made available, if any, either voluntarily or compulsorily (for example to the Police)? Naturally White Rose has not neglected to look at this aspect of the 'surveillance society' we may be sleepwalking into.

Now it so happens that my own motor insurance recently came up for renewal. For many years I have insured my cars with Norwich Union and indeed my home and contents insurance is with them, too. However, whilst there was a moderately large increase in the premium for motor insurance last year, this year the increase was considerably larger - over 20% in fact. This was not entirely a surprise becasue just a few weeks before I had been discussing motor insurance with a visitng relative and he had advised me that his motor insurance (also with Norwich Union) had increased dramatically; he telephoned them to query this and they almost immediately agreed to reduce his premium to what it had been before so he has kept it with them. In my case they immediately agreed to reduce the increase by over a half, but as I had already had a quote from a rival (and good quality) insurer for a premium less than what I was paying two years ago I decided to change to the new company; that's what market economics is all about.

When my home and contents insurance comes up for renewal next Spring I suspect I shall not take my usual path of least resistance (by sending off a renewal cheque), but will instead get a few compteting quotes. And keep 'Big Brother' at bay for a little while longer, into the bargain ...

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