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Should insurance companies be allowed to access people’s social media profiles?

Posted on 18th November 2016

In the last week, Facebook has blocked the motor insurer Admiral from accessing users profiles in order to help set car insurance premiums via a new app. Admiral had planned to access customers’ Facebook profiles in order to build up a form of risk assessment based on users’ profile information. The risk assessment would then help to set insurance premiums and offer discounts to drivers perceived to be safer or more responsible. Just hours before it was due to be launched, Facebook blocked Admiral’s plans arguing that it contravened its privacy policy.

Admiral had hoped to “better understand first time drivers and more accurately predict risk” and explained that it could save motorists between £180 and £350 a year. Admiral’s risk assessment considered for example whether users wrote in full sentences and how many exclamation marks were used.

Accuracy of Facebook profiles

But how accurately can an individual’s driving be assessed based on someone’s Facebook profile? Is there really a correlation between the number of exclamation marks someone users and the safety of their driving. Personally, I think not. Additionally, whilst there are millions of Facebook users, should those who decide not to use Facebook be subjected to higher premiums because their risk cannot be assessed using via Facebook?

So, should private companies be allowed to use personal information on social media with the consent of users? Many people argue that Admiral’s plans are intrusive and inappropriate. But, that said, Facebook states that, “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings.” Therefore if you own the information, why if you consent to it being accessed, should you not benefit from offers from private companies?

This raises many questions including whether Facebook users may consider changing their behaviour on social media in order to be perceived as safer, thus tricking insurers to reduce their premium. Some customers may choose to accept this type of intrusion to benefit from lower premiums.

What lies ahead?

Whilst Admiral launched their app with reduced functionality, it must be asked as to what the future will hold and whether we will be living in more of a Big Brother society that ever imagined. Currently, it is just a motor insurance company looking to access this type of information, but will other insurance companies be looking to obtain the same information? Could lower insurance premiums be offered to homeowners who are deemed more sensible and a lower risk? Will the risk assessments only be limited to first time motorists or could we all be risk assessed using the app irrespective of age? After all, Facebook is used by millions, young and old, so why should lower premiums be offered only to first time motorist who are perceived as being a lower risk. Will this lead to other firms outside the insurance industry seeking reassurance of individuals’ credentials and behaviour and could it include wider social networking sites such as Linked In, Instagram, Twitter and Flickr.

Protecting your personal brand

In my view, this is not the last time we will hear of insurance companies wanting to access social media profiles in order to obtain more information about their customers. Users need to be more vigilant than ever about what they post on social media, they need to be aware of who can access this information and exactly how their information is used. The following quote by Lisa Horn sums things up nicely, “Everything you post on social media impacts your personal brand. How you want to be known?”.

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