We Can’t Let Insurance Companies Bring The Age Of “Send It!” To An End

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Recent developments and some tweets I’ve been seeing have me concerned about not only the future of automotive privacy, but our ability to have a little harmless fun in them without paying an unaffordable rate. Let’s start this discussion with posts about keeping one’s driving “safe” for seven days to get FSD Beta access:

To everyone worrying about driving like a grandma (which isn’t necessarily safe) to get FSD Beta access, I have two counterarguments.

Get A Life!

The first one goes much the same as an SNL skit where William Shatner gets invited to speak at a Star Trek convention (back before watching scifi and fantasy shows and being a big fan was cool). When the nerds start asking him very arcane and pointless questions about the show and show off that they know more about his horses than he does, he loses it and tells them what he really thinks (you can see the whole skit here, and you might want to do that if you want to understand where I ripped the next few paragraphs off from).

If William Shatner had spoken in front of you folks, he’d probably say something like this:

“For crying out loud, it’s just incomplete beta software! Look at the way your social media profiles look. You’re turning a future piece of software that’s not even ready for public consumption into a colossal waste of time! I mean, how long have you had your cars? What have you done with your Teslas? You, (yeah you) you must have had yours for years! Have you ever had it over 100 MPH? Have you ever made the tires squeal?

“I didn’t think so! I mean, there’s a whole world of fun roads out there. If I had a Tesla, I wouldn’t be obsessing over making it drive for me. I’d live! So, move out of Elon’s basement, act like you own the car, and go have some fun with the fast car you bought!

“And no, I’m not saying you should pay more attention to the stock or SpaceX. I can’t believe you people!”

Except this time I’m not recreating the evil Captain Jennifer from episode 37, and this community is most decidedly not ahead Warp Factor 9, because that might get in the way of getting the button to give you access! We gotta keep it under Warp 5 so we don’t tear up subspace.

Here’s the thing: if you really want a car that can only get you from point A to B, drives itself, always does this very conservatively, and you’re just along for the ride, why didn’t you buy only the cheapest possible Tesla? The Model 3 with the single motor and the smallest pack is good enough if nobody is ever going to really push that skinny pedal down. The only thing that really matters to you is comfy seats.

Hell, why not just wait and get the upcoming $25,000 “Model 2” penalty box that everyone keeps sharing weird renders of? Tesla could basically make a Nissan LEAF with a lower spec motor (slow is safe, amirite?), a better battery pack, and FSD for you people. Why spend a dime on anything that’s going to go unused?

Or, you could be like the guy’s mom in the first tweet I put in, and realize that you bought a fast car because you wanted a fast car. Go have some fun with the thing! Don’t be stupid and get in a wreck, but do have a little fun when it’s not going to get anybody hurt.

Tom Sawyer’s Fence

My second counterargument requires that you watch this short clip of a movie adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Let’s look at how things are going with FSD. First off, building a car that drives itself turned out to be a lot more work than expected. Fully functional self-driving cars have been 2 years away for the better part of a decade now. Unlike the TSLAQ conspiracy theorists, I don’t think Elon is a fraud, but I do think the problem proved to involve a lot more work than he thought back in 2016.

Tesla’s competitors (not counting Uber’s 2018 efforts, of course) tend to carefully select and train test drivers, and then pay them fair wages for the job of driving and testing in-development autonomous vehicles. The smarter ones put two drivers in the car to help keep the one behind the wheel focused on their task. In other words, if you drive for Argo or Waymo, you’re getting paid and they provide the vehicle.

Tesla took a different approach here. First, the FSD Beta test drivers own their own cars. They pay for the electricity that powers them, any maintenance the cars need, and all of that. Then, Tesla asked customers to shell out thousands of dollars (an amount that increased over time) or pay up to $199 monthly for access to the incomplete FSD software. Now, like Tom Sawyer, Tesla wants people to prove that they’re good enough to test FSD by pretending to drive slower for a week or so.

After all, as the movie’s narrator said (and, presumably, Mark Twain), “To raise the desire of another individual, then there is nothing more necessary than to make that object of desire difficult to reach.”

Once again, I don’t think this was intentionally set up to be a scam. Elon Musk and the FSD team are obviously very passionate about their work, and the passion of others to be involved in it seems reasonable to them. To people on the outside, who don’t have the religious fervor for it that they do, it sure looks a lot like you’re paying Elon to paint the fence.

There’s More At Stake Here

If this only affected the few nerds who want to test FSD bad enough to pay for the privilege, this probably wouldn’t matter much. The rest of us might eventually suffer negative effects, though.

First off, the same driver monitoring that “the button” uses to determine whether you’re good enough is supposed to start being used for Tesla insurance soon. The idea of monitoring your behavior to “give you better rates” is far from exclusive to Tesla. Progressive has the “Snapshot” OBD plug, and many other insurers are doing the same thing. One’s driving history, credit score, and even social media accounts aren’t good enough, and insurers would love to get their hands on as much data about you as possible.

The problem is that we know (or should know) they won’t stop at giving discounts. Companies already doing driver monitoring tell you it’s a way to possibly get a discount, but they don’t tell you that some drivers get their rates raised. If enough people participate in insurance that tracks their driving, the rest of us who have good driving records but have a little fun with the car here and there won’t be able to keep doing that.

Privacy concerns are also very real, with the possibility of not only hackers getting access to the data, but of the data being misused by government agencies to do things like wrongfully accuse you of a crime.

If anything, we should be encouraging proper respect for our privacy instead of encouraging companies to have Big Brother ride shotgun.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1774 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba