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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Pay as you Share

Announced and rapidly withdrawn, Admiral's proposed collaboration with Facebook was supposed to give drivers a discount on their car insurance premiums if their Facebook posts indicated the right kind of personality. According to some reports, the idea was that people who were reckless with punctuation (too many exclamation marks, not enough full stops) might also be reckless in their driving habits.

The punctuation example is probably a red herring. The analysis of personality will undoubtedly be based on much richer aspects than mere punctuation: Facebook is capable of much more sophisticated analysis, as well as selling data to other organizations for the same purpose.

For example, a Korean study in 2013 found that Facebook activities had predictive power in distinguishing depressed and nondepressed individuals. However, Facebook may not wish to draw too much public attention to such capabilities. (There are some important ethical issues in the use of algorithms to predict mental health issues, for example in recruitment screening, discussed at length by Cathy O'Neil.)

Meanwhile, insurance companies will wish to use any information and insight they can get their hands on, to try and calculate risk more accurately. People may consent to sharing their data if they feel they will benefit personally, or if they are unaware of the possible data uses and implications, but that could just result in discrimination against the people who refuse to share their data. So privacy campaigners may not be reassured by the fact that this particular collaboration has been withdrawn.



Cathy O'Neil, How algorithms rule our working lives (Guardian, 1 Sept 2016)

Sungkyu Park et al, Activities on Facebook Reveal the Depressive State of Users (J Med Internet Res. 2013 Oct; 15(10): e217)

Graham Ruddick, Admiral to price car insurance based on Facebook posts (Guardian, 2 November 2016, 00.01 GMT)

Graham Ruddick, Facebook forces Admiral to pull plan to price car insurance based on posts (Guardian, 2 November 2016, 18.41 GMT)


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