Your Car is Watching You

| March 31, 2024 | 0 Comments

By Rick Brooks

Have you read the terms and conditions of the applications installed on your car? Or your phone, for that matter, but let’s focus on your car for now. A couple of weeks ago, Kashmir Hill at the “New York Times” reported that users of General Motors OnStar services (including myBuick, myGMC, myChevrolet and myCadillac) were getting surprises when they renewed their auto insurance. Some saw their rates double or triple, and some weren’t even able to get auto insurance.

When the car owners asked their insurance agents why, they were directed to vehicle data reports used by the insurance companies to evaluate the risks of insuring those drivers. As it turns out, the insurance companies had specific detailed data about the speeds, acceleration, braking and sharp turns made by these people and were using that data to evaluate the risk of insuring those drivers. The insurance companies were adjusting their pricing as a result of the information about their driving that was shared by the OnStar system.

Modern cars are connected to internet and Global Positioning System Satellites, and whether or not you use the applications, those systems are able to collect data about how your car is driven. By default (at least with GM vehicles), this data collection is turned on and, according to the Times, salespeople may receive bonuses for enrolling customers in the OnStar services. However, even people who said they did not use the services and never enrolled in them have reported their data being shared with data brokers who supply the information to the insurance companies.

I’ve reviewed the terms and conditions and Privacy policies of GM, OnStar and Toyota, and only Toyota’s specifically mentions driving data: “Usage-Based Auto Insurance. You may choose to opt-in for usage-based insurance products and services. If you opt-in, your Driving Data (such as your vehicle’s acceleration, speed, braking and steering) and Location Data will be used to deliver usage-based insurance services to you, and for quality assurance, analysis, research, and product development. According to the Times, Kia, Subaru, Ford, Honda, Hyundai and Mitsubishi also participate in these data sharing arrangements.

What this means is that once you opt-in, data about your driving habits can be shared with companies like Lexis Nexis and Verisk which sell this data to insurance companies. When you apply for an insurance policy, the boilerplate language often includes your agreement to allow the insurance company to access your credit and risk reports (except in California where that’s prohibited).

Most of the data sharing programs seem to have clear opt-in selections. This can be in driver coaching apps installed in the car, or specific interactions in the car’s setup that give drivers the option to share the information. Also, most insurance companies are now offering good driver or safe driver apps on smartphones, which will also collect the same kind of information. GM seems to have been the only automaker where owners’ data was collected without their knowledge. A follow-up article on Friday, March 22, stated that GM had suspended their data sharing and was reviewing their agreements and systems.

In summary, those terms and conditions that most people just click through can have real world consequences. When using a service, especially a free one, it’s important to know what information will be collected and how that information will be used.

If your next auto insurance quote is unusually high, you might want to ask your agent what information the insurance company used to provide that quote. Consumers who are concerned about what data might be out there can go to to see what kind of data their vehicle might be collecting. They can also request a copy of their personal data from Lexis Nexis ( or Verisk (

This column is prepared by Rick Brooks, CFA®, CFP®. Brooks is Director/Investment Management with Blankinship & Foster, LLC, a wealth advisory firm specializing in financial planning and investment management for people preparing for retirement. Brooks can be reached at (858) 755-5166, or by email at Brooks and his family live in Mission Hills.

Tags: , , ,

Category: Local News, National News, Technology, Vehicles

About the Author ()