ending corporate surveillance — state farm’s drive safe and save

Last October 2020 I signed up for State Farm’s “Drive Safe & Save” system to help save money on my car insurance. The deal was, you put a special dongle in your car, install their supporting app on your smartphone, sync the dongle with the app on your smartphone, and it would collect data on your driving. That was the way you could “prove” to State Farm that you were a “safe driver,” and thus warranted additional car insurance discounts. On the surface it sounded really good. Until, after six months of using the combination, I finally decided I’d had enough and removed everything. Here’s why.

Background: My wife and I, together, have been State Farm customers since 1985. That’s 36 years. My wife had been a State Farm customer going back to her college years when she needed car and apartment insurance. When we married we just combined everything under State Farm because it was the better deal at the time.

Through those decades I’ve gotten four tickets, the last one back in 2009 (and which I documented here: https://flic.kr/p/6tu5Ek ). With the purchase of our latest vehicle, a 2020 Acura MDX, I wanted to really baby the vehicle, driving as carefully and infrequently as possible. After a little over six months driving, that seems to have worked out fine as far as Acura is concerned, because we only have 4,800 miles on it, and when I took it in last Friday for its six month checkup, everything on that vehicle was still green, meaning very good to excellent. After having turned all my other vehicles into daily drivers, I wanted to really take care of the MDX. Which is why I thought it was such a good idea to sign up to Drive Safe & Save.

And for a while, it was. I was getting scores on the app all the way up to 100%. If I got dinged it was usually for speeding, such as traveling 40mph in the short road segment within Universal Studio before turning onto I-4, because Universal had marked it as 30mph. Most of the time I didn’t cross over.

But then a funny thing happened to the numbers starting in February. I started getting dinged for actions I’d never seen before, specifically turning and accelerating from a stop at traffic lights or going down the on ramp onto the expressways. Turns on roads within my neighborhood suddenly turned into these “dangerous” encounters, where if you were to interpret the raw presentation in the app indicated I was some wild and reckless driver. Except I hadn’t changed, but something else within the app or the app’s backend processing. I don’t know where, but the change was noticeable, with my overally score starting to trend down. I don’t mind being called out on something truly egregious, like excessive speeding (which I wasn’t), but turns and moving away too quickly when the light turns green? Give me a break.

Here’s an example of the last trip I made with this app active, and the final trip that made me remove it.

Note I’ve been dinged with one “bad” turn and two “bad” accelerations. Let’s examine the turn first, because that one is outrageous.

The right turn from Conroy onto Turkey Lake looks insane. If you believe the app I made a hard right turn into the oncoming traffic. In reality, the turn off of Conroy and onto Turkey Lake is a big intersection, and there’s a gentle curving turn lane which is shown on the map, and that’s what I always take (along with everybody else). Instead the trace shows a snap of my first traveling east, then immediately south. And in the wrong lane into heavy oncoming traffic. If I’d done that I wouldn’t be here right now writing this blog entry, I can assure you.

The other detail of this is just as bad.

Those little rockets indicate I was “rocketing away” from my stop. I don’t know how a regular acceleration from a full stop is supposed to be conducted, but here in Florida you pay attention to when you stop, and then move away reasonably quickly depending on how soon the driver in front of you moves, or if you’re first, how quickly you move. You linger at all and you get honked at almost immediately after the light turns green. This section next to the Mall at Millenia is full of stop lights. And lots of traffic. I have to move through this to get to Costco. And back again on the way home. And the reason you don’t see the trip back home is because there were zero events to show.

What This All Means

  • I’m in a unique position to have a pretty good idea how all of this is working together. My 50 years of software development, going back to when I was a junior in high school in 1971, give me a unique perspective and an instinctive feel as to how software should be working. And my “feels” tells me that based on my recollection of the travel I took compared to how it’s being judged, shows that there’s some serious measurements and/or machine judgement flaws (i.e. “bugs”). And it’s gotten worse over time.
  • There is no way to appeal any of this. The only path to appeal anything is a one-eight-hundred number to appeal speeding, but speeding isn’t my problem here, and hasn’t been for some time. It’s turns, starts, and on occasion, stops. There’s no way to provide feedback to help correct the interpretation of whatever it is the Start Farm puck is measuring.
  • I can’t speak for others, but if you keep seeing this often enough you grow paranoid, and driving becomes not a pleasure but yet another task to be endured. I’m retired, and I retired to get away from commuting into work every day. That was a task to be endured, followed by working at the facility with its hard-to-deal with rules. I worked at what is known in Orlando as the IDE, which is controlled by PEO STRI. The IDE is the most developer hostile environment I ever worked at, and was another reason for me to retire and never go back.
  • Because I came to distrust the app so much, I began to distrust State Farm as well. In other words my dissatisfaction with the product was negatively coloring my satisfaction with the company. It was more than once that I thought perhaps I should just chuck the entire State Farm package and go find insurance elsewhere. There’s no guarantee I’ll always stay with State Farm, but I need to make that decision rationally, not irrationally because of my growing anger with one of their products, “Drive Safe & Save.”
  • Considering the paranoia and anger this product generated in me, it wasn’t worth the extra $20 to $30/month I was saving on car insurance. I’ll spend that money to get back my peace of mind and enjoyment of driving.

Words can’t begin to describe what a relief it was to ditch all of that, and how much I immediately began to enjoy driving again. Products like this just aren’t worth it.

blockchain for voting software is bullshit

XKCD: https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/voting_software.png

I don’t know how blunter to make the case, but blockchain is a solution looking for a problem. Using it to make voting software more secure is a joke. A very bad joke. If you won’t take my word for it, try this formal paper on for size.

“Going from Bad to Worse: From Internet Voting to Blockchain Voting” — https://people.csail.mit.edu/rivest/pubs/PSNR20.pdf

The impetus for this came from an email letter called “Crypto-Gram” published by Bruce Schneier. I strongly recommend you sign up for it here: https://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram/