By: J. Oliver Glasgow,
CEO/Founding Partner Privacy Co-op

Working in the Information Rights industry, I hear wild stories every day that would curl your hair (or straighten it — whatever it isn’t). It’s become sorta hard to surprise me, and yet I’ve been gobsmacked at least 5 times within the past year alone.

At a hemp convention (yes, we go wherever data is being exploited and tyrannized, which is in all industries), I had the rare joy of selling a stranger on becoming a lifetime member of the co-op. It’s only a one-time $25, so I wasn’t doing it for the scratch, but rather to remind myself of the awesome people I work for — namely you and everyone else that generates data that’s being abused.

“What kind of car do you drive?” I asked.

“Toyota.”

“What if I told you Toyota is selling your GPS data to your car insurance company? They’re getting rich and you’re getting shafted?” This was a good bet because pretty much all auto manufacturers are doing that today. You can look it up for yourself on our website. Again… hard to shock me, but you, dear reader, might have delicate data ears.

“It’s worse than that,” he huffed sardonically in a gruff voice.

“What?” I asked, blinking.

“It’s worse than that, Jay. I’m an architect for Toyota — work on their dashboards. We sell your weight to your health insurance company.”

Ok… that was gobsmack #3 for me in 2020.

You see…cars weigh you when you sit down to determine airbag deployment state. So, naturally they can develop trends. They sell those to companies that would like to know if you’re packing on the pounds or suddenly dropping in weight.

Many car companies actually add conveniences in order to gain the driver’s identity, such as custom seat and control settings fixed to different key fobs or buttons. Some cars are even adding face recognition for “safety” (see our staff’s article on Taylor Swift Saves the World).

You can see how Toyota uses your data today here: https://privacyco-op.com/find/Toyota

Today, I’m so jaded that I can actually be halfway down the rabbit hole without realizing it’s happening to me…again.

Case in point…

My car died. It was the radiator, I think. I was sad and needed a tow.

I never used to pay for towing insurance — thought it was a scam. Then I got married to a woman who always carries towing insurance — thinks towing is a scam.

Tomato/tomäto.

I never installed USAA’s app on my phone. Permissions include: Camera, Contacts, Location, Microphone, Phone, and everyone’s favorite, “Other” which includes running at startup, network connections, prevent phone from sleeping, wifi, fingerprints, internet, Google service configuration, full network access, biometrics, API use, Bluetooth, and “extra location provider commands”.

Yipes! This is the whole of everything. If you don’t think their monetizing that data or using it to adjust your rates, then read their privacy policy. Think about that the next time you have a fight with someone while driving. I bet a thousand couples who argue over driving just collectively clenched.

I went to check out their privacy policy, which you can do here: https://privacyco-op.com/find/USAA, and interestingly enough, their website now blocks their privacy policy UNLESS YOU ENABLE COOKIES?!

OMG (again).

Hiding a privacy policy behind a requirement for cookies is just tone deaf.

By the way… when you uninstall and re-install their app, they no longer ask your permissions again on Google Play. Once was enough for them. Also, if you uninstall, they can still collect most all of the data through API (see our staff’s article on The Law You Didn’t Know You Need). So, that doesn’t really stop them or anyone else you have installed on your phone.

Bet you’re regretting that flashlight app you installed in 2009 about now… or… whoever has your old phone number now.

I needed a tow, but didn’t install the app. How hard could this be? OMG!

I started my odyssey at 8:00 a.m. and my car was towed at 4:15 p.m. That’s over seven hours!

Throughout the seven hours, here’s some of the messaging I heard:

“Welcome to USAA. Your call may be monitored or recorded for verification and quality assurance. You may experience longer hold times while we serve other members. For faster service please use our mobile app…”

There were at least three different prompts, including one for current “inclement weather” that suggested using their app as hold times were likely going to be extreme. During this painfully long process, I was placed on hold, either through automation or a person, and my call subsequently dropped several times over hours of effort. Each time I heard the friendly advice…

“For faster service please use our mobile app…”

Agents will actually tell you that it would be faster to use the app. Others suggest it’s easier to get your location if you install the app.

I see a pattern forming here.

So… what did I do during my 7 hours of downtime working my way through their alternative route to getting a “free” tow without using their app? Fortunately, my life wasn’t in jeopardy, so I has some time to focus on “Other” things. First, I used the Privacy Co-op tools to opt-out of USAA using my data for secondary purposes. You can do that here: https://privacyco-op.com/find/USAA

Second?

I found a new car insurance company.

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