Facebook stops insurer from setting rates based on profiles

Facebook has prevented one of the UK's biggest insurance companies from using the social media platform to analyse the personalities of car owners and set insurance rates. 

IMAGE: PA WIRE/PA IMAGES
In a statement to Mashable, Facebook said:

“Protecting the privacy of the people on Facebook is of utmost importance to us. 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.”

A fresh scheme from Admiral Insurance and aimed at first-time car owners offered to analyse their Facebook profile via an app "to help us get a better understanding of the type of driver you are". Facebook has since disabled the app.

If the personality traits match those linked to safe, careful driving, participants could receive a discount up to 15 percent a year on their car insurance.

The insurer's programme would analyse posts and likes by the Facebook user, as well as the language used, to determine their character.

However, UK privacy group Open Rights Group who first reported Facebook's decision claimed the initiative was in breach of Facebook's Platform Policy section 3.15, which states: "Don’t use data obtained from Facebook to make decisions about eligibility, including whether to approve or reject an application or how much interest to charge on a loan."
IMAGE: ADMIRAL INSURANCE/SCREENGRAB
The "firstcarquote" programme would look for habits such as writing in short concrete sentences, using lists and arranging to meet friends at a set time and place as signs of a conscientious, well-organised character.

Conversely, the use of exclamation marks or definitive language such as "always" or "never" will be assessed as "overconfidence" and be against the user.

"Uneasy drivers are likely to use more negative emotions, so more words like 'maybe' or 'perhaps', which suggest that they are so not confident," said psychology expert Dr Yossi Borenstein, who developed the screening process for Admiral.

"You can infer a few things about personality, and from the personality we can conclude how safe you’re likely to be."

Personality options include "bold and daring," "cautious and reliable," and "balanced and easygoing."

Dan Mines, who led the project at Admiral, said the company could develop the scheme to include other social media sites and increase the price of insurance for some drivers.

He denied the policy was tantamount to an invasion of privacy.

“It is incredibly transparent. If you don’t want to use it in a quote then you don’t have to,” he said. “We are doing our best to build a product that allows young people to identify themselves as safe drivers.”

Mines said the scheme was "very much a test product" and clarified that the data would only be used to provide a discount.

"This is innovative, it is the first time anyone has done this," said Mines. "We don’t know if people are prepared to share their data."

Insurance companies are increasingly looking to access big data from social media and personal technology to analyse customers or employers.

BY GIANLUCA MEZZOFIORE / mashable.com

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