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How smartphones make you safer on the roads

From insurance benefits to free drinks and snacks, apps offer incentives that change driving behaviour, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Let’s get the true confessions out of the way: on Mondays, I’m an appalling driver. On Tuesdays, I’m world class.

That’s the harsh truth presented to me by my smartphone, in collaboration with a sensor in a car and an app on my smartphone. But here’s the kicker: thanks to the reward I’ve been offered for my behaviour on Tuesday, chances are that I’m going to make Wednesday great, too. And come next Monday, I will probably be a little less appalling. However, there is only so far one can go on a Monday, regardless of coffee and other awards.

Thanks to interactive technology, though, it is likely I will become less of a menace on the roads over time, regardless of the day of the week.

But first, answer this question: Which would you prefer from an insurance company: threats of punishment, or promises of rewards? The answer is obvious, yet most insurance companies are still firmly in 20th century mode: promise the world, but make it exceptionally difficult to claim when things go wrong.

Of course, there is a better way. And thanks to technology, many better ways. In recent years, short-term insurance companies have latched on to the secret long known in medical insurance: rewards incentivise behaviour.

The concept was pioneered give years ago by South Africa’s Discovery, which extended its Vitality health rewards programme to car insurance. The medical aid giant entered a strategic partnership deal with US-based Cambridge Mobile Telematics, which had developed technology that allows users to combine massive amounts of sensor data from smartphones, other mobile devices, and cars. The technology category is called telematics, which nowadays tends to be seen as a sub-category of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for any device to be connected to the Internet for sending and receiving data automatically.

In South Africa, the result was the Discovery Insure smartphone app on phones and the Vitality Drive Sensor, placed in a vehicle. Both Discovery and its clients are able to keep close tabs on driving behaviour. By roping in Vitality-style rewards, Discovery also incentivises improved driving behaviour. Almost as significantly, it allows the company to gather data from a large group of drivers to learn more about the impact of both good and bad driving behaviour.

The concept has taken off around the world. US-based Root Insurance has pioneered “usage-based insurance” in the USA, obtaining a valuation close to $1-billion through enthusiastic early investors. Root has also latched onto discounts, offering reduced premiums for keeping the app running. In the United Kingdom, at least half a dozen companies are offering “black box insurance” using telematics.

South African companies are far ahead of the game. Two years ago, Avis launched the SafeDrive app, using Discovery’s sensor system, and with a Vitality-style rewards concept built in. That is its key differentiator from almost any other car rental company in this country: it rewards its customers for driving well.

By connecting to the sensor, the app collects data on the movement of the car, and scores the driver on smoothness of acceleration, driving and braking. The app on the phone links it to mapping data, including speed limits, so that the driver is also rated on speeding. Finally, the smartphone itself detects when the driver is using it, meaning that one loses points for bad driving as well as for using the phone while driving. The app also cannot link to mapping and other data when the phone is not in range of mobile data connectivity.

The upside is that, when one scores 80% or more, one is able to activate rewards on an upward sliding scale. From 80 to 84, the app unlocks free coffee  from Vida E Caffe or a hot drink from Kauai. The next tier, from 85-89, delivers the likes of a chicken sandwich from Nando’s. Superb driving above 90% takes you all the way to full breakfast at Mugg & Bean, or the equivalents at the other partners.

Avis saw immediate benefits:  early stats showed that Avis customers redeeming the rewards improved their driving by 5%, while there was an 8- 12% improvement in driving within seven days of a trip. In other words, drivers took steps to improve their driving over time.

The app also uses the phone to alert Avis of severe impacts, or severe weather alerts, as well as providing a panic button function for emergencies – with 24-hour access to an emergency centre.

Ironically, it was city driving that earned me the most rewards, with several 100% trips despite stop-start traffic and numerous speed limit changes. A trip to Limpopo on a Monday destroyed my credibility, however: on one long, straight stretch of road in the open countryside, with almost no traffic in either direction for an hour, I found it impossible to keep to the 60km speed limit. SafeDrive had no sympathy, and scored me a dismal 70%.

I was determined to make up for it the next day, and saw the rewards flowing in. Sadly, I didn’t have time to cash in, and that raises a suggestion for both Vitality and Avis: when customers don’t take up their rewards, they should automatically be allocated to charities. It is an option on the Vitality app, but has to be specifically selected. Automate that, and drivers will also be doing good by driving better.

Click here to read how the SafeDrive app works.

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Seedstars seeks tech to reverse land degradation in Africa

A new partnership is offering prizes to young entrepreneurs for coming up with innovations that tackle the loss of arable land in Africa.

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The DOEN Foundation has joined forces with Seedstars, an emerging market startup community, to launch the DOEN Land Restoration Prize, which showcases solutions to environmental, social and financial challenges that focus on land restoration activities in Africa. Stichting DOEN is a Dutch fund that supports green, socially-inclusive and creative initiatives that contribute to a better and cleaner world.

While land degradation and deforestation date back millennia, industrialization and a rising population have dramatically accelerated the process. Today we are seeing unprecedented land degradation, and the loss of arable land at 30 to 35 times the historical rate.

Currently, nearly two-thirds of Africa’s land is degraded, which hinders sustainable economic development and resilience to climate change. As a result, Africa has the largest restoration opportunity of any continent: more than 700 million hectares (1.7 billion acres) of degraded forest landscapes that can be restored. The potential benefits include improved food and water security, biodiversity protection, climate change resilience, and economic growth. Recognizing this opportunity, the African Union set an ambitious target to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.

Land restoration is an urgent response to the poor management of land. Forest and landscape restoration is the process of reversing the degradation of soils, agricultural areas, forests, and watersheds thereby regaining their ecological functionality. According to the World Resources Institute, for every $1 invested in land restoration it can yield $7-$30 in benefits, and now is the time to prove it.

The winner of the challenge will be awarded 9 months access to the Seedstars Investment Readiness Program, the hybrid program challenging traditional acceleration models by creating a unique mix to improve startup performance and get them ready to secure investment. They will also access a 10K USD grant.

“Our current economic system does not meet the growing need to improve our society ecologically and socially,” says Saskia Werther, Program Manager at the DOEN Foundation. “The problems arising from this can be tackled only if a different economic system is considered. DOEN sees opportunities to contribute to this necessary change. After all, the world is changing rapidly and the outlines of a new economy are becoming increasingly clear. This new economy is circular and regenerative. Landscape restoration is a vital part of this regenerative economy and social entrepreneurs play an important role to establish innovative business models to counter land degradation and deforestation. Through this challenge, DOEN wants to highlight the work of early-stage restoration enterprises and inspire other frontrunners to follow suit.”

Applications are open now and will be accepted until October 15th. Startups can apply here: http://seedsta.rs/doen

To enter the competition, startups should meet the following criteria:

  • Existing startups/young companies with less than 4 years of existence
  • Startups that can adapt their current solution to the land restoration space
  • The startup must have a demonstrable product or service (Minimum Viable Product, MVP)
  • The startup needs to be scalable or have the potential to reach scalability in low resource areas.
  • The startup can show clear environmental impact (either by reducing a negative impact or creating a positive one)
  • The startup can show a clear social impact
  • Technology startups, tech-enabled startups and/or businesses that can show a clear innovation component (e.g. in their business model)

Also, a specific emphasis is laid, but not limited to: Finance the restoration of degraded land for production and/or conservation purposes; big data and technology to reverse land degradation; resource efficiency optimization technologies, ecosystems impacts reduction and lower carbon emissions; water-saving soil technologies; technologies focused on improving livelihoods and communities ; planning, management and education tools for land restoration; agriculture (with a focus on precision conservation) and agroforestry; clean Energy solutions that aid in the combat of land degradation; and responsible ecotourism that aids in the support of land restoration.

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The dark side of apps

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Mobile device security threats are on the rise and it’s not hard to see why. In 2019 the number of worldwide mobile phone users is forecast to reach 4.68 billion of which 2.7 billion are smartphone users. So, if you are looking for a target, it certainly makes sense to go where the numbers are. Think about it, unsecured Wi-Fi connections, network spoofing, phishing attacks, ransomware, spyware and improper session handling – mobile devices make for the perfect easy target. In fact, according to Kaspersky, mobile apps are often the cause of unintentional data leakage.

“Apps pose a real problem for mobile users, who give them sweeping permissions, but don’t always check security,” says Riaan Badenhorst, General Manager for Kaspersky in Africa. “These are typically free apps found in official app stores that perform as advertised, but also send personal – and potentially corporate – data to a remote server, where it is mined by advertisers or even cybercriminals. Data leakage can also happen through hostile enterprise-signed mobile apps. Here, mobile malware uses distribution code native to popular mobile operating systems like iOS and Android to spread valuable data across corporate networks without raising red flags.”

In fact, according to recent reports, 6 Android apps that were downloaded a staggering 90 million times from the Google Play Store were found to have been loaded with the PreAMo malware, while another recent threat saw 50 malware-filled apps on the Google Play Store infect over 30 million Android devices. Surveillance malware was also loaded onto fake versions of Android apps such as Evernote, Google Play and Skype.

Considering that as of 2019, Android users were able to choose between 2.46 million apps, while Apple users have almost 1.96 million app options to select from, and that the average person has 60-90 apps installed on their phone, using around 30 of them each month and launching 9 per day – it’s easy to see how viral apps take several social media channels by storm.

“In this age where users jump onto a bandwagon because it’s fun or trendy, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) can overshadow basic security habits – like being vigilant on granting app permissions,” says Bethwel Opil, Enterprise Sales Manager at Kaspersky in Africa. “In fact, accordingly to a previous Kaspersky study, the majority (63%) of consumers do not read license agreements and 43% just tick all privacy permissions when they are installing new apps on their phone. And this is exactly where the danger lies – as there is certainly ‘no harm’ in joining online challenges or installing new apps.”

However, it is dangerous when users just grant these apps limitless permissions into their contacts, photos, private messages, and more. “Doing so allows the app makers possible, and even legal, access to what should remain confidential data. When this sensitive data is hacked or misused, a viral app can turn a source into a loophole which hackers can exploit to spread malicious viruses or ransomware,” adds Badenhorst. 

As such, online users should always have their thinking caps on and be more careful when it comes to the internet and their app habits including:

  • Only download apps from trusted sources. Read the reviews and ratings of the apps as well
  • Select apps you wish to install on your devices wisely
  • Read the license agreement carefully
  • Pay attention to the list of permissions your apps are requesting. Only give apps permissions they absolutely insist on, and forgo any programme that asks for more than necessary
  • Avoid simply clicking “next” during an app installation
  • For an additional security layer, be sure to have a security solution installed on your device

“While the app market shows no signs of slowing down, it is changing,” says Opil. “Consumers download the apps they love on their devices which in turn gives them access to content that is relevant and useful. The future of apps will be in real-world attribution, influenced by local content and this type of tailored in-app experience will lead consumers to share their data more willing in a trusted, premium app environment in exchange for more personalised experiences. But until then, proceed with caution.”

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