QBE's Insurance Scheme on GPS Tracking: Accuracy, Privacy, Property & Accessibility


Katina Michael, University of Wollongong
Leon Byner, 5AA



Do GPS-based car vehicle insurance schemes really work? Are you worried that your teenager is going to get out of control and cost you and arm and a leg in insurance penalties? Research has shown that young men between the ages of 18 and 21 are most at risk of having an accident. QBE Insurance in Australia, like Norwich Union abroad, are introducing an insurance scheme to aid parents in monitoring the driving behaviour of their children. Simply place a blackbox in the vehicle, hardwire it, and send the data back to base. This should help not only the insurance company, but provide some driver feedback. GPS data can show you things like speed, distance and time travelled, and these three indicators used together can tell you a lot.

Katina Michael speaks with Leon Byner and points out that there are four major issues with this kind of surveillance. (1) Accuracy issues - these devices do not always work properly, if at all (2) Privacy - erosion of loss of privacy as location details and other information is gathered (3) Property - who owns the information? QBE? The Driver? (4) Accessibility - who has access? The Parent? A Third Party? One of the major issues is that we have not yet defined what acceptable use means with respect to GPS monitoring and tracking.

It is a real worry to see parents buying into these new schemes. People are paying for the erosion of their privacy. For example, some schemes in the USA, offer a program which costs $20 per month for monitoring of young drivers. Parents can look up the location of their child at any time.

But what has happened to those good old fashioned values of trust, and common sense approach? What about human autonomy?

We cannot prevent an accident by tracking a vehicle. Are we teaching our children that the only way they can be responsible is through the use of technology? For example, school students with RFID bracelets or GPS blackboxes for cars?

One of the other major issues is that GPS does not provide context. If we give ourselves over to these schemes we are putting even more data in the hands of private companies. An insurance firm is NOT your local police station! In addition, despite the argument that direct evidence IS being gathered from the vehicle, the context is missing given that every car is not fitted with one of these gadgets. You might be doing the right thing and not have a device on your vehicle, but the other might. For a scheme like this to truly work you would need every car to be open to being surveilled and frankly that is not only not realistic but not a desired action.

We should not be teaching our children to have a false sense of security.

Uberveillance is a good example of how data can be misinterpreted, manipulated and misrepresented.

In a court of law we will soon have insurance company forensic data experts fighting over whose evidence proves they were "at fault" in driver claims. In the end we need to be mindful that technology might not only fail but get it wrong.

We also should not be in the mode of giving away locational data so freely. In this geographic landscape, most people use their cars to go everywhere, so tracking location chronicles has more risks than might be originally apparent.

Suggested Citation

Katina Michael and Leon Byner. "QBE's Insurance Scheme on GPS Tracking: Accuracy, Privacy, Property & Accessibility" 5AA: Adelaide 1395 AM Mornings with Leon Byner Oct. 2013: 11.00 AM-11.11 AM.