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Facebook blocks UK insurer from mining data to set premiums

Facebook has hit back at one of its advertisers who aimed to use information derived from user’s accounts to assess whether young people are insurable.

Jamie Davies

November 2, 2016

4 Min Read
Facebook blocks UK insurer from mining data to set premiums

Facebook has hit back at one of its advertisers who aimed to use information derived from user’s accounts to assess whether young people are insurable.

Current Facebook guidelines allow organizations to use Facebook as a means to verify an individual’s identity, but the organization itself is not allowed to use information which it mines from the accounts. Admiral Insurance wanted to mine information from Facebook accounts to judge how insurable young drivers are. Users have to give the information to the organization voluntarily, as opposed to the company taking the data.

“Protecting the privacy of the people on Facebook is of utmost importance to us,” said Facebook spokesperson. “We have clear guidelines that prevent information being obtained from Facebook from being used to make decisions about eligibility.

“We have made sure anyone using this app is protected by our guidelines and that no Facebook user data is used to assess their eligibility. Facebook accounts will only be used for login and verification purposes.

“Our understanding is that Admiral will then ask users who sign up to answer questions which will be used to assess their eligibility.”

The app itself was aimed at creating quotes for 17 to 21 year olds via an app. The organization would use various data analysis techniques and algorithms to build a profile of the individual by assessing the likes and posts made on the social media platform. The Admiral team believe this analysis would assist in judging an individual’s organizations skills and approach to safety. The targeted demographic are unlikely to have a driving history, therefore insuring these individuals can sometimes become a lottery.

According to Admiral “the technology uses social data personality assessments, matched to real claims data, to better understand first time drivers and more accurately predict risk.” This violates Facebook’s Platform Policy section 3.15, which states an organization cannot use the information on a user’s account to decide “to approve or reject an application or how much interest to charge on a loan”.

The app has been under development for some time, though the Facebook team does reserve the right to give final approval on any apps which are to use the platform.  Facebook is also highly self-regulating, meaning what it says is generally gospel; in this case Admiral does not have anyone to appeal to.

While Admiral has stated the app could lead to various discounts, it has also said the result of the analysis would never lead to a premium being increased. Although this is a very good PR soundbite, it is a very difficult claim to prove as there is not necessarily a baseline for insuring younger demographics. The premiums are based on a number of different factors, including location and car-type, and generally personalized to an individual.

There have not been any claims Admiral would use the information mined in an irresponsible way, though the Open Rights Group believes this app had the potential to set a worrying precedent.

“We need to think about the wider consequences of allowing companies to make decisions that affect us financially or otherwise, based on what we have said on social media,” said Executive Director Jim Killock in a statement.

“Such intrusive practices could see decisions being made against certain groups based on biases about race, gender, religion or sexuality – or because their posts in some way mark them as unconventional. Ultimately, this could change how people use social media, encouraging self-censorship in anticipation of future decisions.

“Young people may feel pushed into such schemes because of financial constraints. The right to keep things private shouldn’t be the preserve of those who can afford it.”

This is not the first time social media accounts have been talked about as a measure of how acceptable an individual is to an organization. In August, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has put forward proposed amendments to entry requirements into the US in which travellers would have to disclose their social media during the vetting process.

The move has been condemned by numerous privacy and civil rights campaigners, as well as technology companies around the world. In both the DHS and Admiral cases, there is an opportunity to be taken out of context and misinterpreted, leading to potentially serious complications. Different cultures and individuals would perhaps come to different conclusions with the same information presented to them, meaning bias cannot be ruled out of the equation.

In terms of the Admiral case, there was the potential to set a worrying precedent, though Facebook has made a strong statement in its actions and added weight to claims it will protect the privacy of its users.

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