The Expanding Surveillance Society: Getting You to Buy Into Being Monitored

One of my buddies as of 2007 could not get over his disbelief that people shopped online. He was not technologically unsophisticated; indeed, he knews more about the various flavors of PGP and how to send private messages without using encryption than I care to inquire about (no doubt as a result of doing more than a bit of contested business in Russia). He thought it was crazy to give up that much personal information to anyone unless absolutely unavoidable, and certainly not a mere retailer. Cheaper online prices weren’t enough of an inducement for him to make that trade. (I have no idea whether he has changed his mind as of 2012; being a spooky sort, he’s done a disappearing act).

Like it or not, you in the not too distant future are going to have to submit to personal surveillance to get many types of insurance and financial products. And that future is closer than you probably realize.

Matt Stoller wrote in the spring about how the info tech industry is pushing the idea hard and finding a receptive audience:

Profit-driven surveillance does not starts and stop with young adults. It is, in fact, becoming pervasive. The main theme of a recent IBM consulting document on the future of the insurance industry is how much more money an insurance company can make if it tracks and tags its customers. This is particularly true for auto insurance companies, some of whom like Allstate and Progressive are experimenting on new technologies. For instance, IBM suggests that “A “pay-as-you-live” product would trade some location and time-of-day privacy data for lower insurance bills overall.”

IBM is recommending these companies stick a sensor in your car, measure where you go and when, your speed, acceleration and deceleration, etc. The progression over time could be to withdraw traditional insurance products, so that you won’t be able to get an insurance product without sensors attached. As this presentation offers, “The aforementioned rising tide of technology also empowers insurance underwriters to bring their products closer to realtime interaction via sensor networks and enlightened privacy regulations.”…

It’s not just sensors in your car – insurance companies are modeling tighter and tighter risk chunks. IBM goes on, saying that new products “will facilitate “just-in-time insurance” as a person moves through a set of “spaces.” Each step of the journey represents a different risk such as car-to-train-station, train-to-city-station, station-to- office, and so on. Each leg of the trip truly represents a varying amount of risk.” Tracking these movements could require nothing more than downloading an app on a smart phone, or some other device. But it is literally the application of financial engineering to your very liberty, or the toll-boothing of your life.

That future is arriving sooner than you might think. The New York Times cheerfully ignores the privacy implications of having a monitoring device installed in presenting surveillance as a benefit: yes, you can PROVE you are a good driver by letting your insurer snoop and he’ll reward you with a better rate. And this idea will probably get tons of takers, since 93% of all drivers thinks they are above average. Here is how the Times makes this plan sound non-threatening. Headline: “So You’re a Good Driver? Let’s Go to the Monitor

LAST week, under my car’s dashboard, I installed a small wireless gadget that would monitor my driving. I wanted to see how it felt to have my driving behavior captured, sent to an insurance company and analyzed. More drivers, seeking discounts on auto insurance, are voluntarily doing just that….

Driving data is collected with a device that policyholders must be persuaded to install; it connects to the car’s computer system via a diagnostic port found in all cars since 1996. Such “user-based insurance,” the name for individualized pricing based on data collected from a vehicle, is spreading. Drivewise from Allstate is in 10 states; Drive Safe and Save, from State Farm, is in 16, with 11 more to be added next month; and Snapshot, from Progressive, is in 43….

The Snapshot device records the time of day and distance traveled, along with the vehicle’s speed, second by second. But Progressive deliberately left GPS out of the device so the car’s exact location is not known; otherwise, more drivers might be nervous about using it….

The day after I installed it, I could log on to the Drivewise site and see graphs showing miles driven, the number of incidents of “hard braking” and “extreme braking” sensed by an accelerometer, how many miles were driven at more than 80 miles an hour, and the number of miles driven at what times of day or night. That is all. The device is semiblind by design. It does not know what road I’m traveling or whether I’m stopping for a red light. It also remains oblivious to whether I’m going 70 miles per hour in a 30 m.p.h. zone.

Allstate says the lowest-risk time for accidents is 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends, with the highest risk from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekends. So I couldn’t earn the maximum discount if I worked at a job that put me on the road in the highest-risk times.

“There is a very strong correlation between the driving behaviors we’re monitoring and accidents,” Mr. Birchfield says. Allstate says the discount for its participants also averages 10 percent.

I had thought I’d be uncomfortable knowing that the Drivewise gadget was accompanying me everywhere, But that wasn’t the case — perhaps because my driving behavior was translated into charts with innocuous titles like “miles driven” and “braking events.” The data can be used in post-accident investigations and litigation, however, so I wonder how innocuous it would all look in court in the hands of a plaintiff who has sued me.

Now this doesn’t sound that bad, right? Not that much data is collected. But a buddy who runs a small insurer is vehemently opposed to the idea precisely because he has heard both from other insurers and tech vendors where this is going.

The entire strategy is to go at this incrementally. This is now a cost savings pitch to drivers who think they are good and don’t mind what looks like a little bit of monitoring to get a price break. But let’s say you are like my privacy conscious buddy, you don’t care, there isn’t a price break big enough to get you to agree to surveillance. Well, guess what? Now the monitoring is to prove you are a good driver. It will then be offered to various higher risk groups, again for price breaks, to carve out the better drivers (say the notorious men under 25, or people who’ve been in accidents). The remaining unsurveyed driver will be in a pool of largely higher risk drivers, so their rates will be higher than they’d have been earlier, encouraging even drivers who aren’t confident in their abilities to get scored. By the time all that segmentation is done, the remaining pool will be small and largely high risk. The insurers can then require them to get monitored as a condition of getting insurance.

And once the surveillance is accepted in this and other areas, rinse and repeat on pushing the margins out: say maybe if you are speeding near certain designated high risk areas (query what those might be) entailing limited use of the GPS. And once that has started, it won’t be long before full tracking is required to get auto insurance. Stoller suggested where this is going, based on the plans of vendors who developed these technologies to track prisoners to find profitable opportunities to use them on the general population:

In fact, whether you are tracked because you get a discount on your auto insurance or whether you have broken some arbitrary rule or fit in a non-mainstream class of person, innovation in technology and autocratic organizational forms means that there will be a whole new category of constraints on freedom.

It is very much like the plain vanilla loan, which could be held by banks, being disaggregated into its component parts and sold to investors with varying degrees of risk. This then led to investors demanding more exotic loan products whose risk attributes they wanted to own. This can happen with human freedom. Based on what you are willing to pay, how much power you have, and your desires, our culture will begin offering extremely granular freedom zones.

Many people think that the current Supreme Court and political arrangement means that America is heading back to a 19th century political economy, with 21st century technological possibilities. Thinking about for profit prison and parole companies combined with GPS is a way to imagine what this might look like. When you layer on the clear trend of insurance companies that seek to track you with sensors, and school districts who want to track kids for accounting purposes, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the systems we’ve set up to run our society are increasingly, well, running our society.

The financial engineering of component parts of freedom, and the removal from the state of the monopoly rights to track and/or restrict movement, represents a novel form of social organization. It could be nothing less than a new form of authoritarianism, a soft version in which there are political choices and a measure of openness, but a jello-like network of corporate cartels holding power. In this society, you’ll get whatever zone of freedom you can pay for, and if you can’t afford any freedom, you won’t get any.

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  1. Conscience of a Conservative

    Only a matter of time before such records are not only made available to the police, but obtained in divorce and other lawsuits or Federal bureaus who may not have as many hurdles when they seek the information. Of course all this material is fantastic marketing data or the next targeted ad.

    1. JGordon

      I have recently discovered that most Americans are thrilled with the idea of being spied on constantly by corrupt politicians and their corporate owners. Therefore I fully expect most people to jump at the chance to give this information away at the first opportunity that presents itself.

      Yes, I’m being serious. Since this society has become so rotten and degenerate, there is really nothing left but to stop caring about it and cynically wait for the collapse.

          1. Barry Bliss

            I wonder if most Americans won’t actually be thrilled about being watched–since there is such an infatuation with fame and celebrities.
            “You too can be watched and followed—you too can be famous—you’ll be a star—all of you will.”

    1. johnson

      Not really on topic, but the author’s full of it. He raises a bunch of not-at-all novel points and concludes that, somehow, passwords have failed, when all of his examples are the result of companies half-assing security.

      It really bothers me that he points to all of these examples of companies being too lazy to do security right and then claims that those same companies will implement all these hare-brained schemes (email three of your friends and wait for one to confirm your identity!) properly and securely and that’ll fix all our problems.

      1. Dirk77

        I wondered a bit about that. It is interesting how often laziness comes up when discussing the limits of a technology, though it’s usually the customer not the company. Thanks for taking a closer look.

  2. R Foreman

    What’s to stop people from agreeing to the driving monitor (if it’s required for insurance) and then disabling it? I suppose they could make laws which add penalties for disabling the device. It might be fun spoofing some of these devices, you know, put one on a plane to tokyo, and I’m sure some of the new (programmable) mobile wifi devices could do even more exotic stuff.

    I bet electronic scanners and pulse devices which mess with the establishment will be a real growth industry going forward. We just need a few smart people to pick up the ball and run with it. I mean if I could find a small affordable device which blasted the circuitry of an RFID tag I would seriously consider buying it.

    1. Steve in Maine

      A microwave oven is supposed to do a good job on rfid tags. When we get new cards that are chipped, the first thing is to take them out in the shop and use a round nosed punch on the chip, then activate.

  3. David Lentini

    The trends in politics and technology make me think more and more about the movie Brazil, probably the most frightening movie I’ve ever seen.

    1. Valissa

      Not many cartoons on the theme of technocracy, but I found a few good ones.

      The power of ideology

      The power of evolution

      Technocracy and fine art (lovely pen & ink drawing)

      Give me that good old time technocracy, part 1

      Give me that good old time technocracy, part 2 (note: this is a 50-year-old Jules Feiffer cartoon riffing on what a technocracy political party might sound like).

    2. LeonovaBalletRusse

      David, precisely so: “Leur reve, monsieur” (Camus: “La Chute”). The more vicious, cruel, inhumane, the better. “Room 11” if you don’t obey.

      Orwell and Huxley didn’t predict the future, they announced it.

      1. Up the Ante

        More precisely they announced the chance to make a better future was being passed by.

        And what better company than IBM to announce that they themselves have passed on producing a better future.

        Yes, you must read “IBM and the Holocaust”, Edwin Black, to understand how iconically IBM is suited to announce such things.

  4. teri

    This is OT; can someone please get rid of that damn annoying ad from “mindshift” that takes over the screen as soon as one moves the mouse? I quit coming to this site because of it and only bothered to make the attempt to get past the thing now in order to leave this comment. I had to fight with that ad three or four times to get to this comment box.

    You may have lost quite a number of readers because of this, whether you are aware of it or not.

    1. Paul Tioxon

      Dear teri,
      Please install ghostery on yr computer. That will stop the bad people for most instances. Try installing it on Mozilla’s Firefox browser too.,+this+is+definitely+for+you.&src=ghostery-ff

      And stop whining in public. It’s the emotional equivalent of WRITING IN CAPS to someone over 50!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    2. ambrit

      Dear teri;
      Mr. Tioxons comment is right to the point. Since I did as he suggested the Phil Dick World of pop ups and ‘targeted’ ads died a well deserved death. One thing to try is to access several sites where these ads pop up and compare the content. If they are suspiciously similar, they might be the result of adware on your own computer. Happy Excorcising!

      1. optimader

        Just dont enable GhostRank and feed the monster..Fair is fair

        The world of web behavioral tracking is a mess.

        Advertisers are eager to make it more effective, governments want to regulate it, and web users are generally horrified of its potential.

        But out of chaos comes opportunity, and advertising technology company Evidon has risen to take advantage of the turmoil.

        At Evidon’s core is Ghostery, a browser extension that allows users to block any and all the web trackers they encounter while browsing the web. A more hardcore subset of these users, called “GhostRank” even anonymously sends that data back to Evidon, which adds the trackers to its database.

        Ghostery fills a major void among web users, roughly four million of whom have downloaded the extension in the last year. It’s no surprise that web behavioral trackers have created a lot of paranoid web users.

        But while Ghostery is a valuable tool for the privacy-obsessed, Evidon is savvy enough to know that it can’t make money solely by blocking tracking cookies. So, the company had a smart and somewhat devious idea: Why not take its trove of data and sell it to the very companies Ghostery users are blocking?

        After all, the thinking goes, many ad networks sell their advertisements via real-time bidding, so they often lack a clear idea of where their tags are appearing. In short, online ad networks are just as hungry for information about web users as they are for data about themselves. Ghostery gives them that information.

        This gives Evidon a clear target market and even clearer plan of attack: Use Ghostery users to build the tracker database, then turn around and license the data to ad networks who can use the data to bolster their own efforts.

        “We’ve got a really nice business model,” Evidon CEO Scott Meyer boasted in an interview with VentureBeat.

        Evidon CEO Scott Meyer

        Ghostery data is also the backbone of Evidon Encompass, a performance tool that allows website owners to get a better idea of what web entities are running on their pages.

        This is a key ability for developers, because as the number of web elements on a webpage climbs, so too does the time it takes for the page to load. And that’s no good for websites, which can lose visitors as a result of sagging performance.

        Perhaps most key is that Evidon is leading the ad industry’s charge for self-regulation, an effort that’s becoming more important as the number of advertising networks continues to climb. (And don’t even get Meyer started on the whole government-proposed do-not-track initiatives . Suffice it to say that he’s not a fan.)

        Ghostery adds roughly 70 new trackers to its database every three months, and for many companies, appearing in the database has become a sign of maturity.

        This is something Meyer is proud of. “When a new web tracker comes on the scene, they often want to be listed in Ghostery. It’s proof that they’ve arrived and have influence,” Meyer said.

        All of this information is, again, built on the efforts of Ghostery users, who improve the Ghostery experience by letting the team know when they pick up on a new tracker. Without its user base, Evidon would be a shell of itself. But with them, Evidon is well on its way to becoming a central piece of the behavioral tracking puzzle.

        But how much do Ghostery users know about where their contributions go? While it’s hard to say for sure, Evidon maintains a FAQ detailing the connection between Ghostery and its parent company. And while most users probably aren’t aware of the connection, it’s not something that the company goes out of its way to hide.

        Meyer says that, for Evidon, transparency is vital. ”We’re really transparent about what we do with all the Ghostery data,” Meyer said. “Our business model is built on that,” he said


      2. agog

        Probably the Do Not Track Plus extension for Firefox is preferable to Ghostery. There is also a version for IE.

      3. LeonovaBalletRusse

        ambrit, Cher, how ’bout those ads embedded in “news” video clips and on YouTube? Especially those sappy “I’m a Mormon” ads. Is there a TIVO for that?

    3. William Neil

      Yes Teri, I’ve already complained about it, but I don’t think I’ll stop coming to the site. It isn’t surveillance, is it, but it’s obnoxiously intrusive, that’s for sure, and a strong clue that commerce will respect no boundaries. Maybe Gertrude Himmelfarb can write one about present day commerce in light of her cherished Victorian morality.

  5. Jim Haygood

    GPS monitoring by auto insurers might be superfluous, given what the public sector is doing with almost no public debate. From the Bergen Record in northern NJ:

    A federal anti-terrorism program has drawn North Jersey deeper into the practice of hidden surveillance, equipping police departments with high-tech cameras, infrared technology and automatic license plate readers to keep tabs on people as they travel to local reservoirs, financial hubs and malls.

    The stepped-up security around potential terrorist targets links the region into a network of clandestine monitoring. Some of the departments are already putting to use the equipment provided by Homeland Security; others are gearing up.

    Oradell, Emerson, Closter and Harrington Park police have car-mounted night-vision technology and video and recording equipment that can watch over the Oradell Reservoir and dam — and the hikers and anglers entering it. West Milford can do the same around the Newark watershed. Wayne police are scanning scan the license plates of vehicles outside the Willowbrook Mall, while East Rutherford officers patrol hotel parking lots near the Meadowlands and the Federal Reserve building off Route 17.

    This is of course the same fedgov that’s been funding annual ‘Click-It-Or-Ticket’ roadblocks to enforce the seatbelt laws and lowered DUI limits which they shoved down the states’ throats using highway funding as leverage.

    Basically the Depublicrat leviathan in Washington D.C. is the root of all evil. The more money it’s given, the faster it can perfect our serfdom.

    Now you know why Steve Jobs leased a new vehicle every six months, to keep a perpetual low-profile temporary tag on his car. Soon plutocrats will have to travel exclusively by livery cab, helicopter and private jet to evade the surveillance network that monitors us lab rats.

    1. G Money

      For years I’d resisted getting an EZ Pass, despite the time and effort it would save. But recently I gave up: license tags are now photographed at every tollbooth anyway. Thanks, Homeland Security.

  6. Hypothetical_Taxpayer

    So… IBM now stands for “I’ve Been Monitored”?

    IT motto: No one has ever had their freedom zone revoked for buying IBM?

    1. ambrit

      Dear H_T;
      Get a copy of “IBM and the Holocaust” to see just how ‘benign’ the boys from New York can be.

  7. Merry Lends

    The results from this data can be construed or misconstrued any way the data processor wishes to make it sound.
    The most dangerous driving issues aren’t addressed with this monitor: illegal lane changes, lack of turnsignals, backing up on the street (if driver has missed their turn, etc) and most importantly Tailgating the car ahead of you. This is the biggest cause of injuries and pile-ups.

    1. Kevin Smith

      An increasing number of high-end cars can be ordered with systems which include:

      Pre-Collision System
      Dynamic Radar Cruise Control
      Night View
      Blind Spot Monitor
      Lane keeping
      cross traffic alert
      backup camera

      All of that is good to have, and I want it on my next car.
      But it will generate a lot of data, right down to the question of changing lanes without signaling.

  8. gregorylent

    yogis have always said “there are no secrets” … tech is materializing that ..

    it works two ways .. govt and corps cannot hide from the publice

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      govt and corps cannot hide from the publice

      Cannot hide??? Perhaps in some “grand scheme” karmic sense, but in the here and now they are doing a pretty damn good job of keeping information from the public. Just how much have you been hearing from Bradly Manning or Wikileaks lately? Information, like money, goes one way, and it isn’t top down. Hell, even water goes uphill if you have the technological power, and a media made somnolent public, to turn everything else, such as decency, on it’s head.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Some states make it quite difficult to film the police even during business hours and while discharging their public duty, and it pains me Massachusetts is among them. This is one place, however, where courts often will uphold the citizen’s right to film while cops are on duty. I think OWS generated a large number of cases where citizens were arrested for trying to film the cops. Even in states where it is perfectly legal, it is hugely intimidating.

        Good catch, @ambrit, on the “publice“.

  9. Brooklin Bridge

    With Obama’s Grand Betrayal they are proving right now, again, that you don’t need to fool all of the people all of the time; just enough of the people enough of the time. Does anyone recall the public option?

    The tracking monitors will not only be in cars. The utility companies will soon be requiring that your heater and air conditioners be monitored and remotely controlled (for efficiency during peak hours, heh, heh) and then your fridge and your stove and every electronic device in your kitchen, then your light switches, your shower, tub, sinks, and throne and so on. Your TV usage has been monitored for a long time if you own a digital box and the information is quietly sold (read the privacy contract sometime and marvel at legal barn doors). Don’t even talk about the cameras on your computers and the tracking devices on your phones.

    And Americans absolutely love it. It makes the average person feel safer. And if they don’t, they do anyway because the ones that don’t, don’t exist; they make no sound, at least, no matter how they shout.

  10. YankeeFrank

    You don’t know the half of it. With regard to IBM, a friend who works at Ogilvy & Mather, the PE-owned advertiser, tells me IBM is gearing up a campaign that will slowly get the public used to wearing embedded rfid-type electronics in our bodies. If you’ve ever seen the tv commercial where a guy in a trenchcoat enters a supermarket and stuffs food items into his coat and then, on his way out, is stopped by a security guard, who says something like “wait sir… you forgot your receipt”, playing on the idea we think he is shop-lifting but is really just “shopping” without having to ring up at the cash register due to “technology!” Apparently this ad is the first in a series that is designed to slowly acclimate us to wearing, and then embedding such “convenient” tracking devices in our bodies.

    Personally I find the idea retarded, as there is no reason one must embed such devices in one’s body — one could simply place it in one’s wallet — and perhaps that is not the real end result, but a red-herring for the idea of allowing such a device on one’s person in the first place. There is a company that even sells wallets with metallic fabric that block rfid tags from being communicated with while in the wallet (

    With regard to this insurance discount garbage, I think its a little over-played, as a 10% discount is just not that attractive to most people for the wonderful gift of placing monitoring devices in our cars. If insurance companies begin mandating such things, look for other companies to take up customers who do not wish to be monitored in such ways.

    Its a little bit like the people who want to do away with cash money. Good luck assholes, the people won’t stand for it. And not just the little people either. The powerful also have their secrets, and as the Petraeus scandal shows us, they are not immune from the laws they impose.

    Now I’m not saying it isn’t important to monitor this crap, and thank you Yves for doing so, and for providing this forum for discussion. Its just that this has the possible stink of a fad to it: corporations love to toy with stuff like this, but are notoriously wary of doing things to scare away customers. And in the end this will probably not make them more money, and will actually cost them in all the equipment, monitoring, and changes to their pricing and added workers needed to make such complex systems work in any kind of systematic and effective way.

    At least I hope so ;).

  11. rob

    leave it to IBM, the company that devised the system and catagories used by the oh so efficient nazi’s,to keep track of their political/jewish/whatever prisoners at the concentration camps.Those numbers stamped on the peoples arms were a less technological way to track the people,and why they were there….
    these things are going to be very bad.While I don’t believe in the omnipotence of the supposed “conspirators”,to bring about the subjugation of the human race….damn, if they don’t just have the dumb luck to have a population follow them to the gulags, rather than throw THEM in there.
    This is police state stuff.what begins for profit,is then taken over by wanna be tyrant/bureucrats…the systems to coordinate all this information are in the works now….
    this is the future.this is the now.Like what Bill Binney became a whistleblower against the NSA for.We the people will be tracked. and human nature being what it is, the whole world will be like living in a mining camp. where our jobs,homes,food,money,and every aspect of our lives and any hope for well-being will be dependant on “their good graces”.. so we will have to support them, or suffer the consequences.
    Why people take these incremental abuses , as nothing more than the expansion of a business model, without seeing the wall coming, I don’t know…..Wake the “F” -up, people…
    Obviously, if we were all rats in a cage, the insurance companies would make more money, but who says they can do anything they want..

  12. Ray Phenicie

    I believe the suject of this post, surveillance of personal movement, is a minor subset to the major issue: our liberties and freedoms as a people were never securely in place from the time of the founding. The early history of the country is pockmarked and cratered with huge restrictions on freedom; the major one being the property requirement for voter registration that was in place until the middle of the 19th century. Reading the history the voting franchise shows the myth behind the supposed reality of participatory democracy: we never had it. At this point the time is far too late to being to build a society based on democracy; we need to let loose of our dreams and face reality; start over and constuct aa new society in the shell of the old.

  13. Eureka Springs

    No mention of the costs incurred to set up and conduct this scenario at all. The devices, the wifi, the servers, data compilation. Difficult to imagine most won’t be paying far more to be monitored than the so-called savings.

    I remember fighting a losing battle with a fellow who was larger than a Green Bay Packers nose guard from my electric “co-op” a few months back as he installed a permanent surveillance meter on my house… It looked quite expensive so at one point i raised some cost issues and he said the meter was all paid for with the stimulus. And now there are several large ominous buildings with no windows being constructed at the main office… I’m guessing they are large costly server buildings. Oh and now we’ve been notified of a nine percent electric rate hike across the board.

    As for the neoliberal Orwellian factors… I f***ing hate my country.

    1. Patrick

      The auto insurance industry will subsidize the cost of the devices, installation and data collection with premiums gouged from customers with shitty credit scores, another tracking program they use ostensibly to assess “risk.”

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      You missed the description in the article. These devices plug into cars. This technology has been long anticipated.

      How much do GPS devices cost? This is piggybacking an existing platform. You seriously overestimate the incremental costs of these monitoring technologies.

  14. Pitchfork

    “It could be nothing less than a new form of authoritarianism, a soft version in which there are political choices and a measure of openness, but a jello-like network of corporate cartels holding power.”

    That’s the worst of it in many ways — that the power is “soft.” It just makes it that much harder to fight, that much harder to get people to see the need to fight.

    At the university where I teach, for example, students who submit to taking end-of-course surveys get to register for classes earlier and also get to see their grades earlier than students who do not comply. By the same token, the student surveys are used to monitor and quantify teaching outcomes. It’s all rational and “voluntary” — what’s the harm, anyway? — but the implications for further application are troubling.

    Combine the concerns expressed in the article here with the push for a cashless society and the implications are truly frightening. Didn’t submit to the latest intrusion on your privacy? Well, don’t count on your “Cash Card” working — you had a “choice,” after all.

  15. Teejay

    Ah yes the “free enterprise system” chewing away every facet
    of our lives for profit. Unregulated capitalism is decimating
    our country. Early this year legislation became law requiring
    the FAA to alot air space for surveillance drones. Owned by
    police, government and anyone else. Soon every citizen can experience privacy stripped away as celebrities do. Drone industry lobbist, authoring the bill, did cartwheels.
    Democracy is a veneer in America. Government is owned by business not by and for the people.

  16. yeah really

    One of today’s links is a good example of how surveillance worms its way into society. Reformed Broker is using Cloudflare, which is blocking access from tor relays and recording everything it can detect about the browser and operating system. What does Brown think he needs Cloudflare for? What shadowy evildoers are out to get him? Does Brown even know that Cloudflare is pimping out his readers’ data and keeping files on them for the authorities?

  17. Ep3

    And we can already hear the naysayers: “well if you don’t want to be monitored, then don’t drive”.
    So what’s the guarantee to protect ppl in case these devices malfunction?
    And why are ppl willing to give up such freedom just to save 10%? The answer is the global financial crisis. It has squeezed ppl to the point of doing anything possible with the hope of saving a few pennies.

  18. Brooklin Bridge

    The amount of tracking that already goes on is so astounding that we all tend to ignore it for reasons of sanity.

    I’ve always been amazed at how many people use on line bill payment systems. No one even bothers to read the privacy statements. They even made printers so that they couldn’t easily be made to print checks. That should have been the tip off for just how much industry wanted online payment to succeed. True, banks will get the info anyway, but at least up until recently they had to pay someone for the data entry. Of course now it’s becoming automated. Can’t win, oooo, the water’s great!

    Ah, and now we store virtually all our data on someone else’s server a warm fuzzy cloud (God, marketing can make people do anything). How much longer will it even be possible to get large capacity storage devices and off-line stand-alone software to run them, on the market without some sort of license and state mandated monitoring software (for our own protection of course)?

    And how long before we are required to have a face-book page to get our driver’s license and tweetle-dee accounts to pay our taxes? (Note, if you are a business, you are required by law now to use private companies to submit your tax data to the government).

    1. hunkerdown

      With the legal dangers to availability evinced by Megaupload’s seizure, smart operators have more reasons than surveillance concerns to keep their data firmly on the ground.

  19. Eureka Springs

    Imagine the paranoid homeland security types and the special flag/watch list for those citizens who try to say no to insurance co’s or other surveillance.

  20. William Neil

    As someone who grew up during the heat of the Cold War, don’t these developments just capsize with irony? We all got heavy doses of Orwell (his anti-totalitarianism, but not his own personal left politics)which drummed in the idea of permanent surveillance from the Party-State, with every citizen a potential informer. Let’s not toss that aside too casually; East Germany seemed to have approached that nightmare. But now, in the good olde USA of 2012, it is all done under the name of commerce, marketing, wonderful apps that allow you to price shop…we won the Cold War for a capitalism that is inch by inch, turning into the private surveillance state. Oh they plead and plead it won’t be used against you – they’re doing all for you (and their profits built on their data collecting) – but eventually, as with the grand electronic gathering now being undertaken by the national security state – a good part of it housed in Maryland, “the Free State,” someone will have access to it for unannounced but inevitibly very different purposes, dosiers so comprehensive that it would even make J. Edgar blush (I’m trying to imagine him blushing – don’t you need blood flow for that?). And as I write about the old FBI, you have to ask how new this is, with both parties going along with Hoover’s Cold War driven collections, which if one stepped back and looked at what was going on was really a form of sustained potential blackmail…

    And let us not forget the comprehensive ugliness of this past Presidential campaign. The Obama camp did pretty damn well at their own monitoring and surveillance campaign: every site I visited had Michelle asking me “Are You IN?”. That plus the barrage of incoming Emails which seemed to go on forever, and now morphing into some ongoing campaign to do what, get my acquiesence for the “grand betrayal?”

    We hear a lot from the Right about the Founders this and the Fathers that. Well, I don’t share the Right’s Constitutional constructions at all, but I have my own take that those Father’s would repudiate in a blink of the eye these commercial and surveillance states and much of the foreign policies they go to support.

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      It’s a Private Surveillance State instead of a “Public” one. No accountability. Capitalist Fascism, Closed “Elite” Totalitarianism any way you slice/dice it.

  21. William Neil

    Not very long ago, I commented on a similiar article at the NYTimes, asking sarcastically whether it wouldn’t be simpler for companies to insert a microchip monitor at birth, and pay the new parents for dispensing with the illusions?

    Well, here in today’s NY Times is an article about the famous invention/research lab at MIT, where, wouldn’t you know, a new implant has been developed that might dispense with all those slow and bureaucratic trips to the medical lab…here the necessary monitoring right in the body…

    1. LeonovaBalletRusse

      WN, Diane Sawyer announced a “brave new world'” couple’s RFID’ing of their child on TV “news” four years ago, and this was on YouTube.
      We can always count on IBM because “The business of America is BUSINESS.” It’s nothing personal, it’s just “business”/*bidness*:
      “International BUSINESS Machines” taking care of BUSINESS sentimentally:
      Uploaded by Mark Wise on Jan 10, 2009 [“Wise” = “Weiss”]
      [Introducing the USE of the IBM RFID Chip]
      (There is an IBM Research Center at Research Triangle Park, N.C.)
      . . .
      “IBM: RFID Chips and Nazi Punch Cards”
      Uploaded by videowithmeaning on May 9, 2010
      “Aaron Russo says Rockefeller told him of One World gov’t and RFID chips”
      Uploaded by Rockguitarnow on Jan 25, 2009
      ———-Is this WHY SOCIAL SECURITY must be “PRIVATIZED” for ChaseJPM?
      “RFID “Food Stamp Chip” Is Here! USDA Considering Now!”
      Published on Jun 14, 2012 by Paul Begley
      “RFID Chip for all Americans in 2013” [“Obama Draft Law on Health”]
      Published on May 25, 2012 by GODISTHEONLYTRUTH
      “Cyanide Equipped RFID Chip – Patent Denied in Germany”
      Uploaded by FabioGhioni on Jun 28, 2011
      IS THIS:
      UltraConservative EFFICIENCY for Senior/Poor/Defective/Surplus Population?
      PLEASE NOTE GOOGLESPEAK/YOUTUBESPEAK 2012: GONE is the term: “Uploaded” — now videos are “Published” – does Google hold Excl. Copyright?
      (“The Times They Are A’Changin'”)

      1. William Neil

        L. BalletRusse:

        Does being four years behind mean I’m no longer cutting edge?

        Ploddingly yours,


  22. ginnie nyc

    I guess it’s a good thing I’m broke and can’t buy insurance or financial products, and no longer able to drive. The advantages of poverty…

  23. MacCruiskeen

    When they try to get me to put one of these on my bike is when I will worry. I commute and shop and do most of my normal errands either by bike or foot, so they will be disappointed by the lack of data coming from my car. They’ll just have to go back to monitoring my phone, I guess.

  24. Hugh

    It is all about trust and social purpose, or rather the lack thereof. None of us believe that these innovations are meant to make our lives easier or better. They are promoted to increase the power of government and the power and profitability of corporations. We are increasingly living in a world where we leave electronic footprints everywhere and our public spaces, real and virtual, are monitored. This world is also dominated by kleptocracy and trending toward inverted totalitarianism. So when we ask the question Cui bono?, the answer is unsettling.

    The present case is disturbing precisely because it is so ungrounded in need. The social purpose of insurance is to spread risk throughout the population. Segmenting the target population is a means of reconcentrating that risk. But when this risk is individualized and monitored, the social purpose is lost because risk is not spread. And this is done at great cost to personal privacy. Worse, for a fictive assessment of risk. Driving is a complex activity. No matter how much data is collected there is a level of randomness and imponderable effects, noise as it were, that negates further precision.

    The result is a system that does not fulfill its stated purpose (risk assessment), is completely at odds with its social purpose (spreading risk), and produces mountains of personal data about you which can be exploited and abused by both the private sector and government.

    1. Hugh

      Very odd, I could not get the above comment to post until I eliminated the one word: st*tistical from it.

  25. kgw

    Let me suggest Michel Foucault’s work “Surveil and Punish.” It is an old effort by those who seek to control the world.

  26. Klassy!

    Of course this “carrot” was destined to become a stick. It has been rolled out in the same way that health plans rolled out their biometric testing. First, you are rewarded (very lightly) for taking part in them. Then they become a condition of being in the health plan.

  27. Sara K.

    When I did drive a car, I was one of the 7% who think that they are below average drivers. This was one reason I disliked driving and it often made me feel nervous. And it was one of the reasons I transitioned to a car-free life as soon as it was feasible.

  28. lindsay

    An over engineered way looking for a problem. But the sensor will be a challenge for some to hack it and undermine the whole idea. But insurance company execs are gullible to go for these devices that they obviously do not need because they didn’t come with it in the first place by commissioning research etc.They do not have a problem. But their problem is IBM.

  29. Matt D

    As someone who has spent part of his career as a highway engineer, charged with the task of ensuring public safety in a forum where society has decided to let 16 year olds operate 2-ton machinery at 70 mph, I think monitoring people’s driving is a good idea. Every day, about 100 people in the US die in car crashes, and hundreds more injured. These deaths and injuries are almost always preventable, caused by bad driving. Monitoring people’s driving, with the threat of costlier insurance, will motivate people obey speed limits and drive more responsibly. It will save lives.

    In some sense, people here are just arguing about the degree of information collected. If you’re going to argue that your driving habits, e.g. obeying speed limits, are irrelevant to your auto insurer, are you also going to argue that it shouldn’t matter if you’re a 19-year old man or a 53-year old woman? Are you going to argue your home insurer shouldn’t know if your house is in a flood plain?

    The current auto insurance system penalizes good driving by forcing good drivers to subsidize bad drivers. The result is that bad driving is insufficiently punished, and as a good driver you get to pay more money in order to be less safe. A system that appropriately punishes bad drivers will reduce the prevalence of bad driving, resulting in fewer accidents and cheaper insurance for everyone.

    As a final note, I don’t think the implementation of this technology a foregone conclusion. Automatic speed detection and red-light running cameras are much less of an “intrusion” on one’s privacy, and they have seen enormous political pushback. Of course, the real reason for the pushback is that people view the ability operate a vehicle in violation of the law as an inalienable right. Privacy (4th Amendment) is just the gimmick by which these methods have been thwarted. I guess things may change when the exchange is between two private parties and insurance companies throw their political weight, but that remains to be seen.

  30. jfleni

    All of this really is much ado about nothing!

    Car tracking: Get the junkiest car that’ll take you where you’re going; get plate(s) and legal minimum, cheapest insurance (very cheap in nearly all states, and certainly in the red(neck) ones) and a good way to avoid insurance “snoopers, smellers and spies” (HL Menken’s very apt description); make sure you have a large amount of dirt/mud/ (and other substances not mentioned here) & wear and tear on your legitimate plate(s) to spoil most plate photos from po-lice infrared flash devices. Get in the “lame lane” to pay any tolls with coins.

    Worst case: you are compelled somehow to submit to car surveillance, which can be defeated by having no car and using Lyft/Sidecar/taxis or similar ride-sharing systems, which are sure to proliferate legally or not (Don’t waste any time wishing or asking for useful public transportation; it’ll never happen. Do ask around about reasonable car pools that may be available for a modest fee.)

    End result: scamming insurance plutocrats, & thieving car dealers, have much less money to bribe politicians, and enrich themselves. They need you a lot more than you really need them.

    If you get any income sent to a bank (wages, pensions etc), OK, that’s a good cover which tells the snoops almost nothing, but take it out in random medium-sized withdrawals, and then pay cash for almost everything. Don’t think that flashing plastic is some kind of “Open sesame” to the good life; it’s really like getting naked for the snoops.

    Get printed receipts for all but minor purchases, even if you just throw them away later.

    Check out pre-paid (with cash) credit cards for those unusual large purchases, which you should have delivered to a UPS or Mail Boxes etc. location.

    Never give a merchant your phone number (make one up if they insist), or show a driver’s license for a normal purchase; if they don’t want cash, Goodbye!

    If you find this all inconvenient, and you are just pining away for the new, shiny, big bucks, Lexus gas-buggy, with large insurance and car payments, just imagine some clown in a $$$ suit, grinding his teeth, because he has none of your hard-earned money!

  31. Joe Buck

    Unless your buddy of 2007 did not use credit cards, he was a fool for thinking that online shopping posed an increased risk to his privacy. The surveillance machine works perfectly well if you present your credit card in person at a store, and credit reporting agencies as well as stores will share your data far and wide. Furthermore, these days walking into many stores will land your digital image in a face-recognition database.

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