Warning: Insurance company gadgets could be hazardous to your safety

I recently got a letter from my auto insurance company offering me a deal: Install a little electronic gadget in our cars, and we would receive a discount on our insurance rates. The gadget would plug-in to the on-board computer and track how fast we were driving, how quickly we accelerated and braked, how far we drove and other information. It would periodically send that information to the insurance company.

The idea here is that by allowing the insurer to monitor how we drive, it could adjust our rates up or down over time based on how safely we behave behind the wheel. If the privacy implications of that don’t bother you, there may be other reasons to not to install these devices.

From Forbes writer Thomas Fox-Brewster:

Thuen, a security researcher at Digital Bond Labs who will present his findings at the S4 conference in a talk titled Remote Control Automobiles, has been figuring out how he might hack the vehicle’s on-board network via a dongle that connects to the OBD2 port of his pickup truck. That little device, Snapshot, provided by one of the biggest insurance providers in the US, Progressive Insurance, is supposed to track his driving to determine whether he deserves to pay a little more or less for his cover. It’s used in more than two million vehicles in the US. But it’s wholly lacking in security, meaning it could be exploited to allow a hacker, be they in the car or outside, to take control over core vehicular functions, he claims.

I doubt that hackers are going to suddenly start taking control of cars and sending them careening off bridges or crashing into other vehicles. But I also doubt that someone will try to break into my house this week — I’m still going to lock the doors when I go out.

For the record, Progressive is not my insurance company, so I have no personal knowledge of this particular device. But as the “Internet of things” creeps into every aspect of our life, safety and security will become much more important. The implications of a security breach like this go far beyond pilfered emails, stolen photos or even hacked credit cards. Criminal hackers could put life and limb in danger.

Let’s hope insurers, tech companies and automaker pay close attention to these issues.

Forbes: Hacker Says Attacks On ‘Insecure’ Progressive Insurance Dongle In 2 Million US Cars Could Spawn Road Carnage

A sane analysis of Obamacare

Greensboro benefits consultant Rob Luisana has an unusually sane, balanced discussion of the pros and cons of the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare, as its opponents like to call it). It’s worth a read.

If the ACA is repealed, what will replace it? Do we go back to allowing insurance companies to cherry-pick the healthiest individuals and groups, while charging substantially more or denying coverage for those with existing health issues? Lost in many conversations about health care is the important fact that up until 2014, the number of uninsured individuals was rising each year.

When I was a health care reporter at the Triad Business Journal, Rob was a source for stories on employee benefits and health insurance. His balanced approach (and accessibility) were a big part of what made him such a helpful source.

News & Record: Sensible discussion of health act could make it better


Tricks for meeting deadlines

Researchers have uncovered some tricks that can help you meet deadlines by manipulating your own psychology:

Research into procrastination has noted that people have much less concern about their future selves than their present selves — and are willing to sell their future selves down the river for the sake of present ease. But when the present marches into the future, and we are confronted with the work that our past selves refused to do, we pay the price in unmet deadlines, all-nighters and general torment.

So if a few little tricks can manipulate us into thinking that time is of the essence, why not give them a try?

Essentially, we are more likely to work toward deadlines that we perceive as being in the present time period than those we perceive as being in the future — even if the amount of time we have to work on those deadlines is the same.

New York Times: If You Want to Meet That Deadline, Play a Trick on Your Mind

Study: Expanding N.C. Medicaid would create 43,000 jobs

According to a study funded by two state foundations, expanding Medicaid in North Carolina could create about 43,000 jobs and $22 billion in new business activity. (In addition, of course, to the benefits that would accrue to individuals who would get more health care.)

According to North Carolina Health News:

In all, 43,000 extra jobs would be created if the General Assembly would increase access to the program that provides health care coverage for healthy adults, as allowed for under President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act. Currently, North Carolina covers about 1.8 million low-income children, their parents, people with disabilities and poor elderly who mostly live in nursing homes. Expansion would extend health coverage to parents who make more than 50 percent of the federal poverty level ($9,895 for a family of three), as well as childless adults without disabilities.

You can read the study here.

(H/t to The Times-News, which editorialized on this subject today.)