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Privacy, telematics and car insurance

Here’s a fascinating story of how car insurance companies can monitor your driving.

When Zshavina Meacher of Cleveland traded in her car for a new 2011 Chevy Malibu last summer, her insurance premium jumped to $510 every six months. Her insurer, Progressive Corp., asked her whether she wanted to cut her rate.

If Meacher agreed to install a device in her car that monitors how safely she drives and the results were good, her rates would go down. If the results weren’t so good, her rates would stay the same. She agreed.

During the first few weeks, the device told Meacher that she slammed on her brakes a lot. She stopped the hard braking.
In February, the 23-year-old’s insurance bill dropped by $120 per six months, or 24 percent.

Meacher is happy her rates went down. And Progressive is happy the risk of Meacher getting into an accident went down. Fewer claims will help keep Mayfield-based Progressive profitable.

If you haven’t heard of telematics — a device that monitors your driving — then get ready. While Progressive started dabbling in telematics in the 1990s, it started pushing it in 2010 with its “Snapshot” program, and other insurers have stepped up interest in the last year.

Of course this is voluntary monitoring, and safe drivers can save money on their car insurance, but it raises all sorts of privacy issues. What’s next? Will health insurers want constant monitoring of our heart rates to see if we are exercising?

Securing your mobile phone from criminals


Closeup of a female speaking outside on a cell phone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Security issues are continually shoved to the forefront of headlines as crime rates rise, populations increase and the economy struggles. Everyone wants to be safe – and to keep their possessions and loved ones safe, as well – but financial considerations make it impossible for many working class Americans to get the surveillance cameras, security systems and other tools needed to do the job.

But many people fail to realize all the ways that a cell phone can help families stay safe. With built-in cameras, recording devices, GPS systems and tons of apps, with proper training most anyone can use the phone as a security device. Make sure teens with phones know this valuable information, and remind coworkers and spouses of these tips to keep them safe, too.

Apps are available that alert friends and family members in case of an emergency. Simply engage the app and it notifies several people via numbers preprogrammed into the phone, so that someone nearby can offer help. The numbers you desire are called or sent text messages, so that if someone is in trouble it isn’t necessary to stop and call everyone who may or may not be in a position to assist. These apps can be true lifesavers. Both landline phones and cellular numbers can be programmed to call.

Other apps will periodically send the GPS location of the phone to a designated person so they can help make sure you’re safe at all times. This is the perfect app for parents who worry about teens out with friends, but is also a great thing for moms toting small children around town and for traveling business people who are frequently in high-risk locations and situations. Anyone who is frequently out and about can benefit from this safety app.

Another security app available has a panic button which can be activated whenever the phone user feels threatened or is in danger. The button begins a countdown, and if the user doesn’t disable it within the set period of time, the phone automatically sends a message to a previously chosen person. The app then continues to track the location of the phone user, so if there is foul play, they’re easily located. This app can be activated as the user leaves work after dark, and if that person never arrives safely to the car, the phone signals the alert.

Some apps can also be preprogrammed to call emergency numbers, such as the police and fire department, in addition to or instead of friends and family members. These apps work much like alerts used by disabled and elderly people who live alone. This app is an excellent choice for single people and people living or working in locations far from home – such as college students.

For people serious about the security of their family members, these apps offer peace of mind, and are potential life savers. This is an excellent way to put the GPS capabilities of the phone to good use. Need a new security system? You may already have one on hand.

Supreme Court rules unanimously in GPS case

A recent case highlighted new challenges for privacy in the modern world. Cops placed a GPS tracker on the car of a criminal suspect without getting a warrant. Fortunately, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court decision that ruled that this was a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution which prevents unreasonable searches without a warrant.

The court, however, declined to go further. Issues on other types of electronic surveillance will be left to another day.

Security gifts for the home

The holidays are here so everyone is going crazy getting gifts. One area that is perhaps overlooked at times for gifts is home security, though now with all sorts of surveillance gadgets tied to the Internet, you have some really cool options in this area that can make for great gifts.

Here’s one that is highlighted in the Bullz-Eye.com Holiday Gift Guide for the home:

iZON Remote Room Monitor

If anyone in your family or circle of friends has just had a baby or is expecting, this cool new monitor from Stem Innovation makes a great gift. This innovative and elegant video camera enables you to view and listen to activity in your home or office from anywhere in the world on your iPod touch, iPhone or iPad. You can use it as a baby monitor, or as a monitor in your home when the babysitter is watching your kid. It can also be used as a security device as well so it also makes a great gift for anyone who’s interested in a video monitor. Privacy is also protected ensured as iZON uses secure encryption to stream video and audio through your local wireless network. Set up multiple iZON on a single network and view in a list within the app.

It’s amazing how flexible these tools are these days, and here you have an easy dual use device that can be a baby monitor but also so much more. It’s a great way to keep an eye on your home, kids, pets etc. Check it out.

Welfare drug testing law in Florida blocked by judge

Florida’s Tea Party governor, Rick Scott, has pretty much been a disaster. One of his worst initiatives was to institute drug testing for anyone receiving welfare benefits.

Not only is this a gross violation of privacy rights, it also perpetuates our insane drug war and wastes taxpayer money at a time when budgets are being savaged.

A federal judge was not impressed with the new law:

A federal judge temporarily blocked Florida’s new law that requires welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits on Monday, saying it may violate the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Judge Mary Scriven ruled in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of a 35-year-old Navy veteran and single father who sought the benefits while finishing his college degree, but refused to take the test. The judge said there was a good chance plaintiff Luis Lebron would succeed in his challenge to the law based on the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from being unfairly searched.

The drug test can reveal a host of private medical facts about the individual, Scriven wrote, adding that she found it “troubling” that the drug tests are not kept confidential like medical records. The results can also be shared with law enforcement officers and a drug abuse hotline.

“This potential interception of positive drug tests by law enforcement implicates a `far more substantial’ invasion of privacy than in ordinary civil drug testing cases,” said Scriven, who was appointed by President George W. Bush.

Hopefully he’s right and this idiotic law will be held unconstitutional.