Monday, April 09, 2012

Why is Progressive Insurance LYING about their spy devices?

(Note: This post contains original research on an important topic. I beg readers to spread the word.)

Since when has it become acceptable for television commercials to tell outright lies? I was under the impression that deceptive advertising was illegal.

You know about Progressive Insurance. That's the company whose TV ads feature a lovely lady wearing a white uniform and blindingly red lipstick. The folks at Progressive are pushing a device called Snapshot which plugs into your car's steering column and sends the company information about your driving habits. If you practice good habits, you get a substantial discount.

The question is: How much info are you sending to them? Are they tracking your location via GPS? Are they keeping track of how fast you go?

Progressive insists that they don't collect location and speed info. In the video embedded above, you'll see a Progressive commercial in which the lady with the stoplight lips assures you that the company doesn't want to know where you go or how fast you get there. All they want to know is the amount of driving you do, how hard you hit the brakes, and what time of day you travel.

As Slashdot summarizes:
Progressive says the device captures no speed data or GPS information.
Even if that were all there were to it, I still would advise you to steer clear of Snapshot. Insurance companies have a financial incentive to deny claims. The more info you give them, the more reasons they have for issuing a denial.

But the real problem is this: I've uncovered evidence that Progressive Insurance is lying about Snapshot.

I'm sure that Ms. StoplightLips -- whose real name is Stephanie Courtney, and who is surely a decent and well-meaning person -- would not knowingly tell lies. Nevertheless, there are strange discrepancies between the things that lovely Stephanie is being paid to say on TV and the things we learn if we do a little research.

First, let's look at the issue of speed. The ads are unequivocal: Progressive doesn't want to know how fast you drive. But the small print tells a story with conflicting details...
Data We Collect

The Snapshot device records vehicle speed and time of day, and when the device is connected and disconnected from the vehicle. It also records the Vehicle Identification Number upon installation. Other information, such as miles driven and rates of acceleration and braking, is derived from the speed and time information recorded by the device.

Data We Don't Collect

Snapshot focuses on how safely, how often, how far, and when you drive, NOT where you drive. The Snapshot device does not contain GPS technology and does not track vehicle location or whether you’re exceeding the speed limit.
(Emphasis added.) Well, which is it? Do they collect data about speed, or don't they?

A close reading of the above text reveals the truth: Of course Snapshot transmits info about "vehicle speed." The device simply doesn't reveal whether or not you were exceeding the speed limit at any given time.

But if the company collects speed data, investigators can easily discover whether you were going over the limit after the fact. They may even be able to do so in real time. (Has someone written software which collates the speed limits on all of America's roads? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the insurance companies have an app for that.)

So: If you put in a claim, Progressive will know if you were traveling 42 miles per hour in a 40 mph zone. Claim denied!

Wait. Can Snapshot's speed data be used to deny a claim? Progressive offers mixed signals. On one hand, the company says:
We will not use Snapshot data to resolve an insurance claim you have with us without first obtaining permission from you or the vehicle owner.
On the other hand:
We will not share Snapshot data with any third parties unless it’s necessary or appropriate to service your insurance policy, prevent fraud, perform research, or comply with the law.
That's a pretty damned huge loophole: "...if it's necessary or appropriate to service your insurance policy." If the matter involves the legal system in any way -- as very likely it will -- your speed data will no longer be private. Conceivably, even a civil case unrelated to driving could result in a subpoena for information.

In my judgment, the company's "small print" admission about speed data is in direct conflict with what lovely Stephanie says in the commercials.

Now let's turn to location tracking. Even in their "small print" area, Progressive is unequivocal on this score:
The Snapshot device does not contain GPS technology and does not track vehicle location...
And that is that, yes?

No. Snapshot is an example of what the industry calls a telematics device, defined here as...
...a type of machine-to-machine (M2M) communication that combines GPS, mobile computing and cellular communication.
Hmm. If telematics involve GPS by definition, can we trust Progressive?
Drivers plug a device, the “Snapshot,” into the car’s onboard diagnostic port, or OBD-II, typically found near the steering wheel. [The OBD-II is a standardized digital communications port which was made mandatory in 1996 for all cars sold in the United States.] Using telematics and mobile technology, as they drive, information is shared wirelessly, via AT&T’s network, with Progressive.
(Emphasis in original.) If the company uses ATT's network, then they can triangulate location. That's the key part they're not telling you.

Cell phone triangulation is not the same as GPS; it's a different technology. While triangulation is not as pinpoint accurate as GPS (which can track you to the square foot), triangulation allows trackers to use the information from two or more transmission towers to get a very good idea of where you are. In fact, the FCC has mandated increasingly accurate location tracking from non-GPS mobile devices. Very soon, wireless carriers will be required to provide
...far more precise location information, within 50 to 100 meters in most cases.
(Fifty meters roughly equals 55 yards.) So who is kidding whom, Progressive? GPS isn't the only way to spy on someone.

Moreover, Progressive's claim that Snapshot contains no GPS data is in direct conflict with what we read in this Wikipedia article on telematics:
Telematic auto insurance was independently invented and patented[12] by a major U.S. auto insurance company, Progressive Auto Insurance U.S. Patent 5,797,134 and a Spanish independent inventor, Salvador Minguijon Perez (European Patent EP0700009B1). The Progressive patents cover the use of a cell phone and GPS to track movements of a car. The Perez patents cover monitoring the car's engine control computer to determine distance driven, speed, time of day, braking force, etc. Ironically, Progressive is developing the Perez technology in the US and European auto insurer Norwich Union is developing the Progressive technology for Europe.
(Emphasis added.) Here is the link to Progressive's actual patent. The schematic shows how Snapshot actually works.

Figure 4 of the patent reveals that the system does, in fact, make use of GPS! Don't take my word for it. Hit the link, read Progressive's own patent, and see for yourself. (Click on the image to your left to enlarge it.) If you go further into the patent for the thing-that-became-Snapshot, you'll find that the data sent to Progressive will include:
Location vehicle is parked at night (in garage, in driveway, on street); and location vehicle is parked at work (high theft locations, etc.).
How can Stephanie tell the world that Snapshot can't track your car's location, when the patent clearly states otherwise?

Progressive is not the only company getting into the telematics business. Pretty soon, these devices will be standard.

(In case you're curious: No, I'm not writing these words to justify my own bad driving habits. I rarely drive, and when I do, I stay under the limit and brake very early. Even when I was in my 20s, my brother used to kid me about driving like someone's grandma.)

Perhaps some of you are now itching to write a justification for Progressive's tracking abilities. Perhaps some of you want to serve up a variation of that classic line: "If you're doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about."

Even if I were to grant that point -- which I don't -- we still must face the issue of deceptive advertising. If a fast food company says that its burgers contain 100% beef, then I expect the meat patty to have nothing but dead cow in it; I don't want soy beans or corn meal or other filler. Similarly, if Stephanie Courtney steps in front of a video camera and announces that Progressives' new doohickey can't track your speed or location, then I expect that statement to be accurate on its face. I don't want the company to mount a well-lawyered defense that relies on casuistry or strained argumentation. I don't want to hear any company spokesperson saying: "Well, technically..."

A note about the embedded video: The presenter, Mark Dice, holds to a lot of conspiratorial beliefs which I do not share. I don't know the guy and I do not agree with much of his worldview. But when it comes to this issue, he's right on target.

Again: PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT PEOPLE READ THIS POST. I would like to see congressional hearings on this issue. (And thanks to reader Prowlerzee for sending me down this research trail.)


prowlerzee said...

Thank YOU, Joseph for writing on this, not to mention all the original research! I know what you mean about not agreeing completely with some of those who are sending out warnings about this trend. I was made aware of this via an odd "drivers rights" type newsletter, but when it comes to privacy and civil rights we have a Vinn diagram overlap of common concern that overrides our differences. It's ironic that "Progressive" insurance is pushing this, because progressives seem to be lagging on these Constitutional issues. For some reason, the recording of the time of day/night irks me the most. How is this rewarding "safe" drivers? What if you must drive late at night? What if that's sometimes the safer choice, due to lack of other drivers on the road, despite the conventional "wisdom" otherwise? Oh, and as far as my similarity to Stephanie, it's mostly my goofy, chirpy performance demeanor...the physical resemblance is more superficial, since I also used to sport a vintage style. I've retained the eyebrows but have toned down the lips! Still, it distresses me to have confirmation she's now paid to lie.

Anonymous said...

They are lying about it for the same reason companies and politicians in the US lie about everything. They get away with it.

The same reason bank lie about how much people owe

The same reason BHO lied about what policies he would pursue.

The same reason the people at Perdue Chicken dont tell you whats in the chicken.

They dont have to. It makes them money. And they dont suffer any adverse consequences.


Joseph Cannon said...

zee, I had forgotten that I had talked about Mark Dice in a previous post. Called him a "crank," I did. Which was pretty much true -- he was prattling on about the mythical Illuminati, as though he actually knew something about it. So it feels a little strange to be featuring one of his videos...!

I can't comprehend why nighttime driving would be considered less safe than daytime driving. If your body has adjusted to a night schedule, driving never really becomes pleasant until the hours between midnight and 6 a.m.

In my post, I link to Stephanie Courtney's stand-up routine. Frankly, I think she's funny and charming. Is there any way we could make sure she sees this post...?

Anonymous said...

Statistics can be curious things. Im sure that drivers who do more night driving have more accidents than day drivers. I can imagine that night driving is correlated to doing more miles in total. People who need to be on the road at night probably have to do miles. I can also imagine that night driving has a non-trivial correlation to drinking and driving. Finally, I think more accidents happen at night regardless of your own driving performance. After all, lots of accidents involve one a-hole and one totally innocent party.

For what little its worth


prowlerzee said...

Joseph, do you use "tags" and "clouds?" I'm not sure how they work in relation to search engines, but even using Stephanie's name is bound to get this post to come up if anyone is doing a search on her...including herself, any agents, and her important client. It would be wonderful if she had the integrity to bow out of this gig, however lucrative it is.

@Harry...performers and everyday revelers are out at night, often in urban areas, and not necessarily driving long distances. Cops are also out in force and lying in wait. I disagree with targeting these people. Bartenders tend to be extremely professional and excellent at cutting off problem drinkers. It would take a post too long to go into here, but suffice it to say MADD's founder has quit them because the group has been taken over by Prohibitionists, who are funneling money to cops. The unconstitutional "checkpoints" and also the red light cameras, both of which purport to increase safety and don't, have become the focus of some "drivers rights" groups. Citizens have discovered, for instance, yellow light time has been shortened to increase revenue...and these things increase accidents. One reason this is not more common knowledge is that these are local actions; thus, the reason I subscribe to a newsletter that follows it nationally. They also follow these "safety" additions to cars, like ignition locks tied to breathalizers and this snapshot device. It's a nightmare in the making. People fret about air many know there is a mobile "xray" device police can aim at your moving vehicle?

Mr. Mike said...

Don't buy a vehicle made after 1996, no OBDII port to plug this electronic rat into.

Joseph Cannon said...

Mike, I really HATE OBDII. And I'd give much to have my classic VW bug back.

zee, I'm going to have to research what you say about MADD and yellow lights and such. I can say, though, that a long drive at night through the country can be like soaring through heaven.

I don't use tags. Tried 'em, but it was too much like work. I don't do any of the things people normally do to increase traffic.

b said...

For several years, most new cars have had several computers on them, which gather gigabytes per year of information in each car, and I assume this is communicated wirelessly.

b said...

GPS does use triangulation.

prowlerzee said...

Joseph, even before I read that about MADD,I noticed the trend. Don't know about anyone else, but the tv commercials talking about "buzzed" driving (as opposed to drunk driving)infuriated me. Social re-engineering at its most annoying. I mean, you may as well outlaw pubs and restaurants and weddings that serve alcohol. These are not the people who are severe repeat offenders, yet they are being criminalized. In DC I remember reading a lawyer got arrested for having one drink at dinner...that's the new standard. I guess all our reps in DC getting loaded at swank events don't have to worry because they all have private "designated drivers." I'm sure those ignition breathalizers will become as standard as shoulder straps in cars. Anyway. I was thinking about a recent country drive through the entire night when I wrote it's sometimes safer...or at least less stressful than making the same drive through daytime holiday traffic.

Anonymous said...

May I generalise? I think this technology in cars has been in mass use for years. It wouldn't surprise me if there are receivers in petrol stations too. Stuff comes out years and years and years later, if at all.

In the UK, the extent of video surveillance in shopping malls came out (in the sense of not just being a topic of interest among conspiracy types, whether crazy right-wing ones or, ahem, sane ones like us) after a toddler was murdered in 1993. Ditto with mobile phone tracking around 1999.

British retail stores also track people around the shops using their mobile phones. (This was admitted in 2011 - have a look here.)

The UK is rare as an 'advanced' country where you can buy and use an unregistered SIM card and mobile phone. And this is in a territory where the authorities assist the US military and intelligence machine in its current 'world war' in a very high-profile way. Did they miss something? Was the 'civil liberties' lobby too strong?

Of course not. So why is it? Well the answer must be that face-recognition software is used in a big way by the security state, all over the fucking place.

I can't prove that. It doesn't matter. It doesn't stop it being true. Detail-junkies are great; critics of tyranny don't all have to think and act the same way...

PS I said GPS uses triangulation. By that I mean it involves solving triangles. A pedant could argue it was trilateralisation, because it works out the angles, and therefore the person's location, from the side-lengths, i.e. the distances from the satellites. But since more than one satellite is required, it's still triangulation.

Anonymous said...

You ask if there is a database of Speed Limits. Of course there is! My TomTom tells me what the speed limit is on the road I'm traveling about 80% of the time (totally unscientific statistic right there). I've also noticed that the the noted speed limit changes within a few feet of a new speed limit sign, so obviously the data is pretty darned accurate.

Unknown said...

Honestly...paranoia doesn't imply they're not out to get you after all. I' ve been using the snapshot for over a month now... and frankly I am -very- pleased with it. 28% initial discount after 30 days and a projected 30% discount with my policy renewal coming up.

I've learned a great deal in reviewing the reports provided by them on their website - including how to improve my driving style. A bit conformist I know but frankly it takes MY insurance rate away from being calculated by 'statistics' because they SEE how I drive.

And when you consider the cost of auto-insurance these days I think it would be fair to say that a LOT of people (who do NOT dirve well) would be terrified to place such a device in their vehicles.

I look forward to continued use of the snapshot in my vehicle. At some point I think the device will catch on, and the ONLY ones that don't want to see it installed in their cars are the ones who's driving is already 'questionable' at best and would likely see an Increase in their rates.

Joseph Cannon said...

Traven, I'm not going to say that I'm a safe driver, if only because the people who say those words are usually kidding themselves. Tell ya this, though: Those who know me make fun of how SLOW I drive. They also make fun of the way I brake early and come to a very slow stop way, way before the limit line.

Yet I would NEVER use that device. Never.

Yes, you get a discount -- for now. But once the devices become ubiquitous, the discount will disappear and we'll all be stuck with the spy thingie hooked into our cars. That's how this crap always works, and you know it.

Surely you can agree that false advertising is always wrong?

If Stephanie is saying one thing in the commercials -- while the patent for the device says the exact opposite -- then, yeah, that's a huge damned problem. You can't argue your way around that fact.

Anonymous said...

I will admit, I just recently received snapshot, and installed it in my car. I agree completely with all of your points regarding being watched and taking all of our rights away. How close do you think Progressive is working with the federal government in order to, "catch" those speeding people? I completely agree that all of the statements made within the commercial are totally different when you're reading through the pamphlet. Personally, I commute to school AND work. I'm just waiting for the second I am forced to file a claim, but am denied because of some information found on my snapshot device. I believe that, especially for a young driver, I am very good behind the wheel, for what it's worth- but, do I believe that young people should be forced into getting devices like the snapshot just so they can afford to be insured, as in my case? ...Most definitely not. Something is harshly wrong with our country, and everyone is just bowing down and taking it. Honestly, it frightens me what our society will look like in only a few years. Thank you, for confirming my suspicions.

Anonymous said...

They can't deny your claim...period.
Read your policy! If you kill someone and total your car while drunk, they still have to pay. (they pay for your own damage only if you have collision insurance of course) Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

Random notes:

1. Telematics technology obviously presents a raft of troubling privacy issues -- in private use.

2. Telematics in business/institutional use is a whole different ballgame. You drive a company vehicle and they have a right -- even a duty -- to know where you go and how you're driving.

3. "Vehicle fleet telematics" is increasingly an integral part of managing business vehicles, even for very small businesses -- for instance a guy who's got 3-4 repair techs out making service calls around town all day.

Note: I've written extensively about advanced fleet telematics on behalf of a telematics service provider.

4. In the commercial world, telematics is making measurable impacts on safety and regulatory compliance. As one of many examples, the feds have long required drivers of large interstate trucks to keep logs showing how many hours they've driven each day. (Get drowsy at the wheel of a big rig doing 70, and you can wipe out an entire family in an eyeblink. It happens.) To curb epidemic cheating, these hours-of-service (HOS) logs must increasingly be automated -- tied into telematics GPS/OBD systems. Thanks to smart federal regulation, automated HOS is already starting to protect you and your family on highways across the US.

5. Oddly, Progressive Insurance offers Snapshot only on personal vehicles, where Joseph gives us strong evidence pointing to a corporate cover-up of privacy invasion. (Thank you, J.!) Progressive does NOT offer Snapshot on its commercial vehicle insurance, where it could do enormous good while posing little or no privacy conflict. Go figure.

6. On many commercial vehicles, Progressive wouldn't have to supply an OBD data-capture device because many commercial vehicles already have GPS tracking and OBD data capture installed. Progressive would only have to capture the existing data stream.

7. The telematics provider I mentioned, already has a working relationship with another large insurer to do precisely what Progressive is NOT doing with Snapshot: offering insurance discounts to businesses where safe driving behavior can be independently verified in fleet vehicles.

8. Driven by competition and demand, telematics technology and services continue to evolve at a galloping pace, particularly for fleet vehicles, while the cost is declining. Which means telematics-based insurance discounts can increasingly cover the entire cost of telematics services. Which in turn means telematics for many small businesses will soon be essentially free (i.e., zero net cost).

At the same time, I would not put telematics in my personal vehicle because of all the same issues Joseph raised.

Anonymous said...

Note - just because the patent filing mentions GPS, it is NOT a given that the system built HAS GPS. They just patentented a system and method that included the capability of using GPS as an input. Whther they have this patent on those claims or not, they do not have to build their product that way to have a useful patent.

Anonymous said...

Something you missed is "the owners" of the vehicle. At some point Progressive could own the vehicle.

They could foreseeably agree to pay for the vehicle, and then in court, side against you for the third parties' damages.

Anonymous said...

Joe......shut up!

Anonymous said...

The online information at progressive about how this data can be subpoenaed in the case of an accident waves a red flag. No way for me!

Anonymous said...

Don't get pissed if you don't want to obey the law and drive like an idiot. I do obey the law for the most part and I’m always dodging rude idiots who drive like maniacs. Besides, it is a voluntary program so you don’t have to participate if you don’t want to. If you need to hide your driving habits, then maybe you ought to slow down. Oh and I do believe in privacy, but you’re out there with the rest of us so driving is not a private affair.

Joseph Cannon said...

Look, Anonymous moron -- I can assure you that I am a safer driver than you. I always go under the speed limit and I always brake early. I said so in the post, which you apparently did not read.

You did not address the point of that post -- DECEPTIVE ADVERTISING.

Are you really proposing that deceptive advertising ought to be tolerated? How can people make a responsible decision about a voluntary program if the advertising is deceptive?

What an idiot you are!

Anonymous said...

I drive less than I would actually like to. It's two miles from my house to school. However when I take a trip across the state for parts or to pick up a car, it's people like Joe that inadvertently cause accidents. Think of cars on the interstate as terds in a pipe they all want to go the same speed but if you have a slow turd it backs that shit up to your house. It's about flow and people doing relatively the same speed. 90 in 70 is bad. Just as bad as your dumb ass doing 50 in a 70. I know this because I followed my 68 year old father for 498mi, when doing 70-73 having to pass somebody meant slowing down traffic in the fast lane, if anyone even remembers what the lane is for, cars would tap there brakes to turn off cruise control setting off a wave of reactions, then people started following too close, excessive lane changes, road rage, Think. people doing absolutely nothing wrong have to slam on the brakes and do the dreaded window mirror neck judgement game and in the middle of all this you decide to brake befor the deceleration lane even begins. Just so YOU can be "safe", have some common consideration for other drivers. The signs are there for a reason, realise there are other people who don't give two shits about your safety, and I don't want to be near those people, do you? so I drive assertively and efficiently you should too!
As far as this snapshot device goes, I really want to know if someone who drives and assertively and efficiently will not be given the same discounts as those who just drive how ever they want to drive and turn a blind eye to design standards i.e. America's love of stop signs and lights and then fail to use them correctly. I'm done ranting. I won't be coming back. It's not the nature of the data that scares me. It's the interpretation of that data, that is the real danger.

Anonymous said...

This video is stupid! i have had snapshot before and they do not lie about it! they say that they dont care how fast u r going not that they dont capture speed! they use ur speed and the time to determine acceleration and deceleration. And there is no gps.

Anonymous said...

Driving at night produces far less accidents statistically. The bigger the crowd, the more likely you are to bump into someone in a crowd. During the day, cars can come out of nowhere if you're not looking carefully, at night, you're at least warned by headlights (unless it's a rare case where the other guy's headlights are off).

Not everyone out at night is either tired or that one gets old, but so does getting tailed by the popo's when one goes to Walmart when the crowds are most tolerable (non-existent).

Society is 24/7 more than ever. I'd be much more dangerous on the road trying to adjust to daylight hours after a decade being on nights @ the hospital;Eyes blinded by the sun, reaction time stifled, just in time for all the ratracers darting in and out of the Jimmy Johns parking lot, worried they'll be 2 minutes late on their way back from lunch.

Not that I support this device, but they should factor in a persons active work hours if they are going to use time-of-day as a reference point.


Anonymous said...

If anybody really cares where my boring ass is going, I will tell them. Geeze what is it with you people and "privacy"? The same people who whine about privacy go on Facebook and brag about how they were so fucked up and drove home.....

Anonymous said...

I have disassembled and analyzed this device. As an electrical engineer, I can tell you that it does not track vehicle speeds by gps, the OBCII feeds speedometer data to the device. Also, it transmits its data like a text message through AT&T after the trip has ended and the vehicle has been turned off. So they could find everywhere you go and turn your car off, but CANNOT know where you are when driving.

wi9emt said...

i have one.. i opened it up.. SUPPRIZE! NO GPS ANTENNA OR CHIP! progressive must of invented a new gps that dont need antenna's they should sell the idea, they would make millions!

Anonymous said...

I use this in my SUV and honestly i have no issues with it. So what if it has a GPS in it. What are they going to do, raise your rates for going to a store they don't shop at? It seems most of the comments seem to be "i wont use this because they can deny my claim because they will know i was speeding!". Stop speeding. It seems OP excuse of "i go slower then the speed limit" is some sort of "get out of jail free card" and its not. You can get a ticket for that as well. Slow driving is as much a problem as speeding. Here is your stop, glad i could be your school bus driver for the day.

It seems to me anyone with an issue with this device needs to stop driving like an idiot. Scared Progressive is tracking you? Are you a millionaire? Are you some sort of VIP to this country? WTF do they care about where you are and when you get there? LOL. Self important crap is what you all are. Put on your foil hat, get snapshot, save money.

Bashing a company for "misinformation in a commercial" is one thing, but, bashing them with some crazy unproven theory-crafting is another. I remove your soapbox and replace it with a hole. Thanks for playing. Bet you were upset the world didn't end Dec 21 2012 to huh? All those preparations and nothing came of it .. sorry bro.

Scott Blair said...

I think you jump to lots of conclusions. The most obvious statement that does not have any correlation that you make huge assumptions on is their patent.

Most all patents have claims in them that are not actually implemented in products. When you write patents you include every concept you can think of at the time of filing the patent. Obviously it is conceivable that GPS data MIGHT be used so of course you would want to patent it. It does NOT mean that it IS used though.

I have my own concerns with the Snapshot system but some of the factually incorrect and in some cases wild conclusions you jump to force me to question and discount ALL the information you have provided. When you get such obvious things about patents wrong, I'm pretty sure you got plenty of other things wrong too unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

I have used this in all my cars and it is not that big of a deal. You only use it for a couple of weeks for them to gather the necessary data to determine if you are a good driver as all of us think we are. If you are, you get 30% off. If not, there is no discount. The device works using telematics and therefore there is no GPS functionality to identify coordinates. It also has no inherent capability to determine anything, just take the data from the onboard computer and transit it to the progressive systems. Vehicle speed, braking times etc are all collected by YOUR car in the onboard computer which can be obtained if you get into a wreck even without the Snapshot device. All they do is gather it for a short time to determine if you are a good driver.
If you don't use it insurance companies simply use actuarial data to determine if you are a safe driver. We all know how that works. This is definitely the way to go for insuring drivers because there are too many idiots on the road that I don't want to be associated with when I am quoted a policy. I now pay 30% less than I used to because I had the snapshot in all my cars.

Unknown said...

Automatic Speeding Tickets!?!?! Damn Big Brother!!!

How dare they try and make us obey the law! I'm appalled at how they try to make everyone safer by keeping others from breaking the law and practicing unsafe behaviors!

Sheesh. I'm sick of all this stuff.

Being able to use the GPS information in my care in court cases against me?!?! If I break the law, the last thing I want is for people to know where I was when the crime I was commiting was going down... Or even worse, I would HATE to have them try to use that information to acquit me!

Gerald said...

I drive a 1995 Volvo, and pay roughly 300.00 a year for liability through Country Companies. I mean really.. how much cheaper can it get?

I would presume this snapshot has an accelerometer, as well.

Anonymous said...

The patent document posted in the article shows a GPS feeding a vehicle's onboard navigation system. It does not show the Snapshot device having an integrated GPS receiver.

Anonymous said...

As soon as I heard the ads for snapshot, I knew it wasn't something I would ever willingly put in m car.

Anonymous said...

Spoken like a "Good German."

Is there no end to the asses you'll kiss or the cocks you'll suck in order to save a few dollars?

Anonymous said...

"Why is Progressive Insurance LYING about their spy devices?"------------Because they are low lifes !

Anonymous said...

Progressive Insurance is one of the most corrupt companies in the nation! I know this first hand as a former automotive collision shop owner for many years. State Farm and Allstate are right there with them. My recommendation is Mutual of Enumclaw.

Brad is Madness! said...

Fact of the matter is, Stephanie Courtney is getting older every day. When she first started out w/ appearances in Progressive commercials, my girl and I were watching TV together and I mentioned to her that I'd knock the boots right off Steph in a heartbeat, if given the opportunity. My girlfriend kinda frowned and said "great..if that's your taste in women then I guess im not sh** to you, at least in the looks department!" (Made me laugh). But these days, not so much. She still has appeal, but to an older crowd of men who are probably reluctant to change over to Progressive anyway. If Progressive became more "aggressive" in their marketing prowess, they'd have chicks like Mila Kunis & Megan Fox wrestling over a Snapshot device in a mud filled kiddie pool. THAT, my friends, would produce results. Just my $.02 on it.

Anonymous said...

The heart of the populous will ultimately secure our fate. Me? I'd never concent to give any more information than necessary to anyone, be they corporate, or private in the name of security; which in this case security is cash savings. I'll pay the extra to be free (and not to companies looking for such info) and not enslaved to act as others deem prudent.

If you think that controlling others to act in ways you see fit in the name security, safety, or whatever soul leaching term you can find will change basic human nature then you need to get used to two things: strife, and disappointment. Because those are the only things that are resultant of tyranny.

Anonymous said...

The feds are arguing right now over mandatory black boxes that will record everything the car's computer is able to record, plus real-time gps data, standing time parking location, duration, etc. There are already companies that can equip your company owned fleet with this type of device that can catch you speeding, sleeping, off your route, etc. BTW- Garmin GPS gives the speed limit where ever you are as a small regular speed-limit sign in the display that turns yellow if you exceed the speed limit and red if you go 10 miles over. So that technology exists now. Can you see having to have your black box read each year and then pay for any parking violations that the cops missed, or any speeding tickets you would have gotten? The black box will also be able to bring the car to a controlled stop when activated by the cops -- to prevent car chases of course. Memory is so cheap and small, about 300,000 miles of data can be recorded, so all owners of most cars will have complete records. The data can be uploaded as well. Next it'll be audio/video capability.

Anonymous said...

It appears Joseph Cannon does all his research on the Internet and I did not see anyone else comment on the true function of the onboard diagnostic system.

The OBD II system does not know what time it is. Nor does it know what date it is. It doesn't need to know. It doesn't know if the car is driving in New York Eastern Time or California Pacific Time. Can you remember the last time you changed the date in your car after changing the battery? LOL If the Snapshot device is receiving time information, it's not getting it from the car. It may use Atomic Clock technology to record time. There is no cellular technology within the Snapshot device and you will not find it in an OBD II system either. You will not find GPS technology in either the Snapshot or OBD II system. Some newer vehicles contain a GPS receiver for the navigation head unit or Blue Tooth technology to pair your own personal mobile phone, but you will not access that through the OBD II port. My research doesn't come from searching the Internet, just educational training and hands on experience from being Master Mechanic for the last 16 years.

Anonymous said...

Dear Auther,
You are CLEARLY confused. Let me help you clarify what the difference is between Snapshot monitoring your speed (which they say they do) and monitoring speed limit... Snapshot doesn't contain GPS so can't tell whether you are going the SPEED LIMIT, but it does monitor speed so it can tell if you brake hard. If you are travelling 70 MPH in a 45 MPH zone prgressive won't know the speed limit of the road (np GPS), only that you were travelling 70. Then if you brake hard ans suddendly are travelling 20MPH, they will know this.
In summary, REALLY?!? You wrote that whole article not knowing the difference between speed monitoring and them knowling the speed limit?? wow man...

Unknown said...

Use the snapshot. said I could save %30 on my cost. After 1 month of local driving they said I hit my brakes 4 times gave me an 8% discount. Next bill i got was $200 more than my original bill. when I looked at my next 6 month bill I was listed as a Platinum customer which I had not asked for. Plus they changed my other coverages for more. Lying @ cheating. total for their bill was almost $1200 for the year. no accidents, no tickets. 66 years old. Will never use them again. New ins costs $368 per 6 months for more coverage!

Unknown said...

they lyed then increased my cost by $150 for every6 months cost.

Anonymous said...

I don't have enough information to resolve the major claim of this post about whether or not the Snapshot uses GPS. If it has that capability, it certainly doesn't seem to use it because the info you see online only shows time and speed. (Of course, they could filter this information.)

As for the topic of it recording speed, I think Progressive simply worded their language poorly. I think what they really meant is it doesn't keep track of the speed limit where you are and compare that to your speed in that area.

Now, my overall comments. The Snapshot is a device you use for only a MONTH. You use it willingly in order to save money on your insurance rate, if you're a better driver than average. After the month is up, you remove the device and send it back to Progressive. So even if you are concerned about all the data, it's only for a month and it's a tradeoff we are all free to choose or decline. They get a month of our data and we could save money forever. Or we can keep our data private.

I used Snapshot and really enjoyed it. The techie in me enjoyed looking at my own data, and after a month it was gone!

Jared Connell said...

I totally understand why you wrote this article and I appreciate all your research. I saw the commercial for the snapshot device and I was wondering what was in it and what it recorded. I looked at the progressive site, but of course they don't tell the whole story.

However I have one thing to add: I'm sure they could deny claims due to info gathered by the snapshot if they wanted, but the snapshot would have to be plugged in at the time of an accident. The thing is that you only keep the snapshot for 6 months, after which you send it back and you keep the rate that they calculated during that time. As long as you don't have an accident during those 6 months then they can't deny you a claim because of the snapshot because its not in your car anymore!

Heck you could put it in your car for a few months and have your grandmother drive your car to bingo every tuesday while you take her 1974 cadillac to work every day. That way they think you only drive 10 miles a week and never go over 30 miles an hour!

Unknown said...

Thank you Joe.
I am an Insurance Agent, now that's on the table. I am not a fan of "Nanny State" methods and systems. I am even more alarmed about tracking schemes such as GPS. With that said, I have to add something to the discussion. If the concern is about GPS, I could be wrong, but isn't your cell phone a larger risk ? . Secondly, Insurance companies are not interested in GPS for monitoring purposes. They do not have the staff, time or desire to know where you are at any time of the day or night. That data is just not part of their formulary. Insurance companies want data to related to speed, breaking, trip mileages, where you operate your vehicle ect.... And when they have that data, they then compare all of the 1's and 0's to known data profiles of drivers who are safer. With this data, they can justify who to give the "cherry" rates to and whom to charge the hell out of. If your an insurance company, you have to think out of the box and come up with ways to better match "Rate" (price) to "Risk" (Claims/losses). If you do not find out whom your better customers are (better risk profile)and offer them the best premium possible, than as a company you risk loosing your best customers to another company who will figure it out and offer them the better deal. So if you have a "Telematics" device in your car, then use it to lower your insurance bill, drive in a sensible manner, don't speed and break/accelerate with safety in mind. Insurance companies don't give a sh!t about tracking someone, they are just interested in discovering ways to offer the best premium to the best drivers.

Unknown said...

Folks, insurance companies are just trying to offer the best rates to the best customers. Period. They don't care about your precious "GPS" signature one bit. They just want to keep their best customers. How pray tell do they find their best customers ? They study their driving data to correlate that data with data profiles of know "safe drivers". They can then segregate and differentiate rates based upon the data, thus.....match the best customers to the best premium. This will allow the company to stand a better chance of keeping their valued clients before some other underwriter of another company figures out how to offer them an even better rate. Look folks the insurance markets are very competitive. Companies have to build a better mouse trap, this is just the latest attempt. Don't get your panties up in a bunch. Insurance companies are not interested in your GPS, just your business....if your a "Good:Safe" driver.

Unknown said...

My question is what difference does it make what it does, if it does truly save you money? If you're worried about being "tracked" you're either doing something you shouldn't be or you're downright paranoid. If you think the government can't track your every move with things like this, you are so sadly mistaken and misinformed. If you have satellite radio, guess what, you can be tracked, if you have a cell phone, guess what, you can be tracked. Look at google street maps, if that level of clarity is available to the public, what do you think is available to the government? Face it people, if the government wants you tracked, you will be, with or without progressive snapshot or any other similar device. Big brother is ALWAYS WATCHING!!

Anonymous said...

im glad I posted that anonomously because I now regret how dumb I sounded haha it just makes me so mad when people have reasonable arguments that differ from mine

Kenneth W. Williams said...

They might be telling the "truth" when they say they don't capture GPS data. The GPS receivers don't need to capture GPS data. They "use" time stamps (GPS data) from the satellites to calculate a location. The satellite doesn't send your coordinates. They send time stamps, and your phone or GPS receiver or SnapShot uses the time stamps to calculate your coordinates. So technically, it might not "capture" GPS data, just use it to figure out where your car is. They said they don't capture GPS data; they never said they don't record your coordinates.

Anonymous said...

I don't know where you get your info from but there's is know way they could know what the speed limit is where you r even if they had that info and a GPS built in the reason they can even track your speed is based on how the diagnosis port sends data they say they don't track it means they don't save it. I'm sure they can see your speed but these guys are not the law so why would they be able to say your speeding when they r not there to track your actual speed if this was the case it would be required by law to have a device similar to this to track your everymove speed etc and issue you a ticket based on that. I mean seriously dude do some more research they get there info by sending it thru AT&Ts mobile network. You sound like your paranoid lay off the weed man and quit thinking every company is out to hurt you by lying etc sure some do but really? I quit reading your article bout 1/3 the way in cause you sound like an idiot

Anonymous said...

However for the years and years I've worked night shift yet have I had an accident nor seen one at the time of night I drive on a major interstate.not saying it doesn't happen but less people drive at night minus those driving impaired at night

Anonymous said...

YES they do "track" you. I unpluged my unit and got this e-mail from them
"Action: Please reset the device today
Reason: We haven't heard from the device within the last 15 days.
Vehicle: SILVERADO C35
Device ID:
We haven't heard from the device, so we haven't been able to collect the information we need to calculate a potential discount.

You can reset a device in three easy steps:
1. With your car off, remove the device for 10 seconds.
2. Plug the device back in, start your car, and let it idle for at least 30 seconds.
3. Next time you take a trip, log in to your policy and check your Driving Reports; your trips should appear in your driving results within 24 hours."

Anonymous said...

Also know that the diagnostic port lets the insurance company know how well you maintain your vehicle. For example, if you have a "Maintenance Required" light on regardless of whether or not it is for something safety related needed or simply time for an oil change per the manufacturer's suggested time frame they can determine in their minds if you keep your vehicle maintained. They will not know what maintenance is "needed" and if you do not service the vehicle to insure the light is off the insurance company could adjust your premium based on if they determine you are not maintaining your car and keeping it "safe".

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Exerpts from the Progressive Snapshot patent. No way i'm ever plugging one of these into my vehicle:

"Tracking of the vehicle for location identification can be implemented by the computer 300 through navigation signals obtained from a GPS (global positioning system) antenna or other locating system 312. The communications link to a central control station is accomplished through the cellular telephone, radio, satellite or other wireless communication system 314."
"The type of elements monitored and recorded by the subject invention comprise raw data elements, calculated data elements and derived data elements. These can be broken down as follows:
...driver identification (through voice recognition or code or fingerprint recognition);
...vehicle position.
...vehicle location,
...vehicle speed in excess of speed limit;"

"These events would require immediate notification of the central control center.
1. Excessive speed. The reading of the vehicle speed sensors would indicate the vehicle is exceeding the speed limit. Time would also be measured to determine if the behavior is prolonged.
2. Presence of alcohol. Using an air content analyzer or breath analyzer, the level of alcohol and its use by the driver could be determined.

3. Non-use of seatbelt. Percent of sample of this sensor could result in additional discount for high use or surcharge for low or no use.

4. Non-use of turn signals. Low use could result in surcharge.

5. ABS application without an accident. High use could indicate unsafe driving and be subject to a surcharge."

"Acquiring data from vehicle sources such as.....The other sources of relevant data, such as ...GPS, security system or any additional systems are obtained through various I/O ports and the sample rate can be varied in accordance with the desired goals of the insurer."

"For example, by knowing that a vehicle operator travels on vacation in that vehicle to a certain resort location may give rise to a marketing of a package of products particular to the type of travel or the location. Another example would relate to the knowledge that the vehicle operator attends particular types of sporting events which may give rise to certain types of products catered to fans of that sporting event."

"Examples of possible actuarial classes developed from vehicle provided data include:
number of minutes driving in high/low risk locations (high/low accident areas);
observance of speed limits, and;
Location vehicle is parked at night (in garage, in driveway, on street);
location vehicle is parked at work (high theft locations, etc.)."

Unknown said...

why would u even bother with those SPY DEVICES?
seriously, progressive isn't THAT cheap. even with their usage based system, i'd still be paying $80/month. with , i got quoted for $40/month liability only, so i think i'll stay with them, thank u very much

Anonymous said...

The technology is okay as long as it's based on freely given content and customers are NOT forced to use it. However, we're talking about an industry (car insurance) that has lobbied for mandatory auto-insurance. So, I know this might be a slippery-slope fallacy, but based on past behavior, I would confidently predict the industry to lobby for mandatory snapshot tracking of all of their customers. And based on the governments past behavior, I predict that they require insurance agencies to send their data to them (no questions asked).

If we get into such a situation where snapshot is legislated and mandated for everyone, then that's not right.

And you're right too, the false advertising is really fucked up.

Oh yeah, i forgot... when you have to unplug it in order to use that port for diagnostics, the insurance companies will probably throw a hissy fit and require that you prove your innocence by providing evidence and documentation of car maintenance.

Anonymous said...

huh, i would have guessed that night-time driving was safer... since there's less traffic.

I would guess there are more day-time accidents than night-time accidents due solely there being more people on the road.

Unknown said...

This is ridiculous! I can't believe this kind of blatant contradiction hasn't had more hype around it. Is this add-on doing well in stores, or has Progressive eaten their own false advertising yet? Thank you for sharing!

Jenn |

Anonymous said...

If a rate change of 7mph per second registers as a "hard brake", then Progressive's Snapshot is rewarding all those that run yellow and red lights. The standard yellow-light time is 4.2 seconds on a 45 mph road. On faster roads, the length is longer. The formula is based on two assumptions: It takes the average driver one second to perceive and react to a yellow light and 3.2 seconds to safely stop the car. Progressive's hard brake rate would need 6.43 seconds to stop from 45mph without getting a warning beep…..unless the driver runs the light. And they think this promotes safety?

Anonymous said...

I have it. I actually do not care if they track my speed, how much I drive, what hour of the day I travel. It is just another nonsense collection of air. I don't have anything to hide besides.

Anonymous said...

Just because you own a patent, doesn't mean your device has to be built exactly to the patented design. So GPS in the patent means squat. Open the snapshot, is there a GPS chip inside? Search "snapshot teardown", nobody has found a GPS chip.

And GPS is not available on your OBDII port even if your vehicle has a built in GPS. Cell tower triangulation, possible, but uses lots of data. Cell phone plans for data are not free, so not likely they are always monitoring position. There is enough info on OBDII to tell if you are a crap driver. Speed, RPM, throttle position, braking, fuel economy, etc. If they know your car gets 30mpg city and you only get 18, that's more valuable than GPS. Add in a 3 axis gyro and accelerometer, then you can see how hard someone takes a turn or rolls a stop.

Derek said...

I rarely post comments on posts like this but, wow. This post stinks of bad logic:

1. Logical fallacies like (a) Just because there's a patent tied to progressive which includes GPS, doesn't mean the device they're sending customers is of the same design. And,

(b) Don't forget that the cheapest way to measure acceleration (rate of braking) is by measuring speed. Acceleration is, after all, change in velocity. To add an accelerometer to the design would increase the cost by at least $10/device, which is a lot considering the already high expense, and program enrollment.

(c) you quoted an AT&T rep talking about applications of telematics, which you go on to show us is defined as containing GPS. You then quote this article [b]failing to include the sentence immediately after it[/b]: "Using telematics and mobile technology, as they drive, information is shared wirelessly, via AT&T’s network, with Progressive. [b]The Snapshot isn’t outfitted with GPS, so it can’t record where the car is or how fast it’s driven.[/b]"

(d) again you quote a patent and say Stephanie is lying to us, just because your "research" says that the product Progressive is sending out to customers obviously employs said patent! Those bastards!...

2. They do actually include a disclaimer in the instructions: "Some snapshot devices contain GPS technology and record location information for research and development purposes only" (better get your tinfoil ready...)

3. Insurance companies need clients. If the "Snowden effect" could tarnish the reputation of Uncle Sam, Progressive would get a virtual tar and feathering if an employee or customer made a stink about them denying a claim based on this data.

So why should we trust these people, who you seem to cast as scheming corporate bastards with some prying, malevolent motive? Well,

4. They are a company and this product is the next in a long line of carrots-on-strings and attempts to remain competitive. Devices such as these are mere means to attract people to their policies, and is really an investment for them. The snapshot devices cost almost $100 per device, and the return on their investment is drivers being mindful of their aggressiveness on the road.

Admittedly, I asked for my own device so I'd have more incentive to pace myself, in a region of the country that's perpetually in a hurry. We're taking two-ton mobile metal death machines, people regularly forget that as they take their bad day out by driving like maniacs. And really,

5. Why would they want to track where you drive? I mean, mobile phones are extremely common and theoretically cell carriers (also big corporations) can already tell where you drive without a snapshot device, if they wanted. I know it stokes anyone with a victim complex to imagine "they" could be making money on your whereabouts.

Congratulations, few inspire me to write rebuttals I expect to go unread, let alone spend more than a minute on. Something about pretzel logic makes me want to poke holes in it.

Check your motives. They aren't out to get you. And if you really don't like it, then don't get snapshot. The day insurance companies mandate people have these things will be a glorious day, and I hope they legislate aggressive driving some day, too. Emotional, distractable, careless human beings. And 2 ton metal machines at high speed, maaan...

Anonymous said...

Actually, looking at the patent diagram, and after actually looking up the exact patent and looking at the *REST* of the patent diagrams and description, it would appear that the snapshot device intact DOES NOT contain a GPS radio. Instead, the device is making utilization of a GPS radio already in existence somewhere in the car you already own, if one is present. FIG. 4 appears to be a diagram of where Snapshot fits into the rest of your cars OBD2 system.

For all of you whining about privacy, suck it up.

Even if this device were using GPS technology, which it is not, i assure you they do not give a rats ass WHERE you are, but how you are driving. Geolocation is a simple fact of life. Anyone who has made a phone call, used a computer, driven a car, or used a credit card is able to be located on a map with amazing accuracy. What happening here is childish forbidding about privacy and shit.

Redwood said...


"So: If you put in a claim, Progressive will know if you were traveling 42 miles per hour in a 40 mph zone. Claim denied!"


I've been handling claims for a major insurer for 20 years. A claim cannot be denied to your customer because they were speeding.

Get your facts straight amigo.

Anonymous said...

FWIW: Modern cars with ABS and OBDII have an "EVENT DATA RECORDER (EDR) system. With a warrant, that data can be extracted although it's usually only done for accident investigations where a fatality is involved. Grab a Factory Service Manual for your car and read up. Some EDR's will record more than others; an example might be a vehicle with Stability Control (did it function correctly?). If your car also has GPS tracking, well you see where this is going....

EDR data may include: seating location and restraints latched, speed, throttle position, engine load at time of impact, brakes used, ABS cycled, distance traveled with ABS activated, air bags deployed, etc. As technolgy evolves, they record (loop) for longer intervals.

Point: cars are already doing this. Now add in users of "Smart Phones" with GPS enabled and you pretty much have 3 strikes against you if you do something stupid. That is; this information can be used against you OR maybe even support your case if you pay your lawyer enough!

Good Read and thanks for Posting details about Flo and the scam!

Do I see a LEAD SHIELD for that pesky little OBDII beacon? How much memory does it have for those "remote locations" where cell reception is poor? haha!

Queen Bee said...

I am curious to know if there have been any documented "Side effects" on the performance or operation of the cars mechanical system.. IE: the Speedometer and reading of MPH. a few days after I put in the device Liberty Mutual requested I use for 90 days to reduce my rates.. I have started having problems with how my mph gauge is working on my van. the gauge said I was going 100mph in a 20 mph zone! my speedometer is not working right now... I am worried that the read outs to the insurance company will be crazy! worried about how fast or slow I was really going, my son put an MPH App on my android phone... (Very cool) Help!! because if I unplug the device to trouble shoot my mph problems, it will void the program...

Anonymous said...

It says it doesn't collect if your exceeding the speed limit. That's different from collecting your speed. For them to know if you're exceeding the speed limit they'd have to know where you are and compare that against the speed limit of the road.


saikumar said...

My question is what difference does it make what it does, if it does truly save you money? If you're worried about being "tracked" you're either doing something you shouldn't be or you're downright paranoid.

Shiva said...

Got some idea about "Why is Progressive Insurance LYING about their spy devices?"

Shiva said...

"Why is Progressive Insurance LYING about their spy devices?" good article

Anonymous said...

This is a great time to see Vehicle Tracking is become compulsory for many type of security purpose.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TechNich Solutions said...

The basic OBDII speed signal used by all devices has a serious flaw that could be causing all kinds of wrong decisions in a UBI program. It has poor resolution that can result in errors of 10 or 20% at slow speeds. For example, devices cannot tell the difference between 9.00 and 9.99 km /hr. This can result in a lot of poor decisions.

Anonymous said...

It says in the booklet they send you "some snapshot devices contain GPS technology and record location information for research and development purposes only. "

Unknown said...

What about Liberty Mutual? They say that they dont increase your premium due to your first accident and if you total your car they gjve you a new one that is 1 year newer and with 10,000 less miles. If you have new car replacement option. I dont have th j s but it does sound good. I personally have a horrible driving record so I probably couldn't get this insurance but if my driving record ever gets better I would like to try this if what they're saying is true.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this vital proof. It amazes me to find a lot of lies being told Americans and I stand up for truth!!!
Blessings to you on your journey!

Anonymous said...

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your credibility by the way you merely place it available like this.