Facebook Blocks Insurance App to Spy on Users, Set Premiums

John Lister's picture

Facebook has blocked plans by a British insurance company to use customer posts on Facebook to help determine motor premiums. Admiral Insurance claims no customers would have lost out from the policy.

The plan was for customers to give the insurer automated access to their Facebook posts (but not photographs) to help decide whether to offer discounts. It would have been aimed mainly at young drivers who had no insurance history to show if they were safe or dangerous drivers.

Language Could Indicate Risk Factors

The precise details of the algorithm to figure out risk are confidential, but it's been suggested that the program would look for specific indicators, such as giving specific times when making arrangements to meet friends. The algorithm would also have penalized signs of overconfidence such as excessive use of exclamation marks or using terms such as "always" or "never." (Source: theguardian.com)

Admiral says that the algorithm would only have been used to decide whether to offer discounts and that no customer would be offered a higher premium as direct result of the Facebook assessment.

In the end, Facebook blocked the move just hours before the tool was scheduled to launch. It said the plan breached its guidelines on how third parties are allowed to use information gathered from Facebook.

While Admiral is still launching its dedicated young driver app, the only Facebook interaction will be if customers choose to use their account as a way to verify their identity, or as a way to log in to the insurance app without needing a dedicated user name and password.

Move Could Have Hit Ad Business

While online rights groups have welcomed Facebook's decision, other analysts say it's not just a case of the company acting in the best interests of users. Instead, it's suggested that Facebook believes such apps might encourage users to deliberately change the tone and content of their posts to try to game the algorithm.

That could be bad news for Facebook, because it might make it harder to sell targeted advertising that's suited to the genuine interests and personalities of users. (Source: bbc.co.uk)

What's Your Opinion?

Was Facebook right to block the app? Could it be possible to determine somebody's driving risks by looking at what they post online? Is there a danger that social media posts might wind up affecting financial products? For example, people who frequently post about being hung-over may receive higher health insurance premiums.

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Dennis Faas's picture

This is most likely not an isolated instance where companies are trolling Facebook users and their posts in order to manipulate some sort of outcome, whether it's offering discounts on products or perhaps even the police determining the probability of criminal intentions - think: Minority Report with Tom Cruise. As far as Facebook is concerned, I'm glad they took the stance and blocked this from happening, and I hope they continue to do so. That said, I imagine that it would be very time consuming and difficult to vet every app that makes its way onto Facebook.

matt_2058's picture

This says it all: "The plan was for customers to give the insurer automated access to their Facebook posts (but not photographs) to help decide whether to offer discounts. "

Doesn't Coupons.com install what amounts to spyware so a person can save a few bucks? What's the difference? Oh...that's right....Facebook is skimming off the top. That's the real problem.

If a person opts to give up that level of privacy for a discount, let them. The real problem is the companies that bury the details of spying on you....like FB did initially. At least this company is up-front about it.

I don't remember if I mentioned this thing at my regular oil change shop. Now, instead of getting $10 off on the spot, they send you a Visa card. Not Ford, but BoA. BoA now has all the info the shop has. Now the customer is on BoA's radar.....credit card offers, vehicle loan offers, new car push, etc. I won't ask for that discount.