Your car may be ratting you out to your insurance company

Manufacturers of connected cars are sharing way more data than customers may realize, the New York Times reported Monday, and that’s only half the problem. According to the report, automakers may be sharing statistics about customer driving habits with their insurance companies directly. If you drive a car with built-in telematics in a way that you’d rather your insurance company not know about, you may want to keep reading. 

So far, the Times has only linked the activity to instances where customers voluntarily opt into various connected features, but how customers agree (not to mention whether they understand exactly what they’re agreeing to) varies by manufacturer. In the cases of OEMs like Tesla, who provide their own insurance either in-house or via a partnership, customers are made aware that the service will monitor their driving behavior. Some third-party insurers even offer electronic monitoring devices that interface with the universal on-board diagnostic (OBD) port located on every mass-market vehicle. 

In other instances, however, the data collection is less transparent. NYT called out General Motors in particular for sharing data with third parties with little (or ambiguous) documentation. GM’s optional OnStar Smart Driver service offers to track customer driving habits for them, ostensibly to help them behave more safely and economically, but does not obviously disclose that the collected statistics may end up in databases like LexisNexis that available to insurance companies. Multiple owners of high-performance GM vehicles claimed they were targeted by insurance companies for rate hikes after taking their cars to the track while the service was active. In some cases, those customers may have been enrolled in the service at the dealership as part of a larger OnStar bundle. 

Other automakers acknowledged arrangements with third-party data collection firms, but in more limited and situational contexts. Subaru’s Starlink service has a feature that allows customers to enable insurance tracking, but only if they explicitly request that it be used to generate insurance quotes. Otherwise, it shares only odometer data with third-party providers. Acura, Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Mitsubishi all offer an optional driver score feature that includes data collection and transmission to insurance databases, NYT reports, but all require the customer to opt in. 

If you own a connected car — and especially one sold by GM — the story deserves a careful read.