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Some trade their privacy for car-insurance discounts

For two months, Jacob Sevlie's insurance company tagged along whenever he slid behind the wheel of his Honda Accord. An electronic monitor closely tracked Sevlie's driving time and behavior. If he had a heavy foot or was a sudden braker, the recorder would betray him.

Disconnected from the car and hooked to a PC, the device relayed Sevlie's digital driving diary to his auto insurer, Progressive Corp., during a pilot program this year.

Although privacy advocates say the gadget smacks of Big Brother, Sevlie signed up and sent monthly data in hopes of saving money on his insurance bill. In return, he got a $25 stipend and the promise of a 15 percent rate cut when the program is launched.

Ohio-based Progressive is now promising discounts of up to 25 percent as it expands the so-called TripSense pilot program to 5,000 Minnesota customers. Progressive says it will use the data only for discounts and not to penalize customers for risky driving habits.

But the monitoring has the potential to cascade through the insurance industry, said Charles Samuelson, of the American Civil Liberties Union in Minnesota.

''What happens is Progressive does this and gets a little bit of market share growth because they've lowered prices. Then it gets copied by other insurance companies. Pretty soon you don't have any choice," Samuelson said. ''You have to surrender all that data to insurance companies or they won't insure you."

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