By Ralph Savage
Sir Tim Berners-Lee has urged insurers to avoid the temptation of using increasing amounts of publicly available data about consumers on the web to price their products or decide whether claims are valid.
The inventor of the World Wide Web made a plea to the industry at the British Insurance Brokers’s Association conference in Manchester yesterday, requesting that information we share about ourselves on line – particularly by young people through social networks – should not be gathered for the purposes of pricing risk or paying claims.
Sir Tim, who sits on the Transparency Board of Open Government at data.gov.uk is a staunch advocate of opening up publicly owned data, but he said the private sector has a major responsibility in how it uses the information available. “Insurance companies should come up with guidelines to reassure people about what information will be used,” he said “For example the industry could say ‘We will not use the information you share on social networks from when you are under 18. We would like this to be the case as childhood should be protected.”
The mechanics of how personal data can and should be used is a particular concern for Sir Tim and the Open Government organisation. For example he pointed out how even anonymised personal data such as medical records can, with the correct filtering be used to identify individuals: “Anonymised personal data might need licensing,” he said. “Rules on how terms can be violated need to be clear. Correlation of information that identifies individuals needs to be risk managed.”
At the heart of Sir Tim’s message was ‘Data Provenance’. He emphasised that users of data like insurance companies had an obligation to acknowledge where the information they are planning to use is coming from and how the data should be used when they get it. “Companies that deal with a lot of data need to track where the data came from; the appropriate use and destiny of that data is important.”