Give a little info, get a little discount

A new insurance company plans to offer lower premiums to good drivers by monitoring their journeys.

Car insurance is a tricky market to operate in, because companies are forced to go with only the broadest strokes of information in trying to work out how risky a customer is – age, career, and, despite the ECHR ruling it illegal last year, gender – so that they can correctly price premiums. For older drivers, they also have information about previous claims, but when it comes to insuring new drivers that isn't available. As a result, premiums for young drivers tend to be high across the board, with little option but to buy the cheapest car available and wait for them to come down.

Insurance company Young Marmalade tries another way around the problem: by monitoring the driving habits of customers. TotalInvestor reports:

When you purchase a low-powered car from Young Marmalade, the free installation of a black box can cut your insurance premiums into half. By monitoring the driving behaviour such as acceleration, braking, what time of the day the car was driven and at what speed, Young Marmalade provides affordable telematic insurance premiums.

The company calls the package "Intelligent Marmalade", and it does seem to be an ingenious way around the catch-22 for young drivers, who can't get low premiums until they can prove they're safe, but can't prove they're safe until they pay for car insurance. The company claims it can save the riskiest group, young men, almost £4,500 a year.

The only downside is that, well, it's a bit creepy. Despite growing awareness – and, amongst the age group Young Marmalade targets, acceptance – of the sort of tracking performed online by companies like Facebook and Google, for the most part that has yet to translate into a similar attitude offline. While services like Foursquare and Facebook Places allow users to "check-in" with their location, they are still required to actively opt-in. The information Young Marmalade use to determine whether or not a car is being driven safely is extremely close to what would be required to track its location at all times (depending on whether or not turns are picked up).

Yet this is representative of a growing trend in the insurance industry, because fundamentally, if a company can offer thousands of pounds for a little privacy invasion, then there are going to be people to take them up on it. Improving the quality of information available to both parties should improve the efficiency of the market, which would be good for everyone. Just cross your fingers and hope that the data is kept securely.

Via Marginal Revolution

Police in Nice gaze at a bank of video screens. Could this be the insurance company of the future? Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.