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Insurers must be held back in public data scramble

There must be limits to the way our publicly available data is accessed and used by private organisations such as insurance companies. I am as enthused about social media as anyone, but a free for all backed by the resources of a £20bn industry cannot be enabled without a substantial ethical debate.

By Ralph Savage

Ever since Sir Tim Berners-Lee told insurers at the BIBA conference to think before they use social media data to help them underwrite policies and manage claims, the issue has gathered momentum.

At a Post Magazine & Chartered Insurance Institute round table discussion recently, I pointed out how permission to use data would be a significant area of debate and this week the same publication has looked into whether insurers could, or should use data gathered from social networks to compile quotes.

Kevin Taylor, CEO of Gravytrain says “insurers must remember one thing: there is no issue with monitoring data consumers have willingly put into the public domain”.

Some insurers believe the data we share on social networks could be used to price risk or pay claims

It’s a fascinating article about the possibilities for insurers to decode our language, the reliability and trustworthiness of our real-life social networks and information about our lifestyles; all through online social media monitoring that would go a long way towards pricing risk accurately for many types of insurance policy.

Nevertheless while the ‘could’ is very well catered for in Kevin’s argument, little of the ‘should’ is contained therein. Perhaps that is why Sir Tim’s comments need to be juxtaposed with anything advocating a headlong rush into applying algorithms that supposedly deliver an “immediate response on an individual’s risk level”, as Mr Taylor suggests.

The provenance of data on social networks is not always clear, nor is its accuracy. Who is to judge what ‘trustworthy’ means in the context of a stranger’s network of friends or indeed how reliable we are when such concepts are purely relative? There must be limits to the way our publicly available data is accessed and used by private organisations such as insurance companies. I am as enthused about social media as anyone, but a free for all backed by the resources of a £20bn industry cannot be enabled without a substantial ethical debate.

About Ralph Savage (137 Articles)
Insurance and legal journalist Ralph Savage has written extensively for the financial and professional services sectors, most notably as News Editor of Post Magazine. He ghost writes regularly on behalf of FTSE 250 CEOs, leading counsel and senior professionals including solicitors, insurers, accountants and brokers.

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