Insights

This car insurer wants your Facebook data to determine if you’re a risky driver

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Can the way you use social media determine how much you should pay for your car insurance? Is it possible to make judgements on what type of person you might be behind the wheel, just from how you use language and grammar? UK car insurance company Admiral seems to think so.

Admiral, for the record, is one of the UK’s largest car insurance providers. It’s our equivalent of, say, State Farm.

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And it announced that it is going to use the vast quantities of online data that is generated whenever we use Facebook and other social media sites, in order to determine how much individuals should pay for their car insurance.

Admiral’s algorithm works by examining posts and likes shared by the Facebook user – but not photos. The insurer will then use them to identify traits often associated with safe driving, such as using short concrete sentences, lists, and arranging to meet friends at specific times and places, rather than in vague terms like just “tonight”.

It also tries to link the user’s user of semantics to a driver’s overconfidence. Excessive use of exclamation points, and absolute words like “always” and “never” suggest that the driver might not be up to scratch.

The service is called FirstCarQuote, and it’s aimed at first-time drivers and car owners, who can pay as much as £2,232 ($2,738 USD) for their (mandatory) car insurance.

Admiral is eager to emphasize that the scheme is voluntary. Furthermore, it will only be used to provide discounts. Drivers won’t see their insurance rates rise because they used one too many exclamation points.

Of course, this proposal isn’t terribly popular. It has been compared (unfavorably) to something from Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.

Another day, another step closer to #BlackMirror reality. Car insurance prices to be based on #Facebook posts! :-( https://t.co/u2ldmq4Sxd

— Jennifer Baker (@BrusselsGeek) November 2, 2016

It seems that Facebook isn’t keen, either. Admiral’s scheme goes against Facebook’s Platform Policy. In section 3.15 of the policy, Facebook says: “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.”

And now, according to the Open Rights Group, Facebook has blocked Admiral’s access to the Facebook Platform, essentially rendering FirstCarQuote dead on arrival.

I’m not sorry. While FirstCarQuote is quite benign, it’s the first step on a slippery slope that sees our offline lives determined by our online behavior. Where every drunk tweet and every angry status update could count against us.

Good riddance.

Admiral to price car insurance based on Facebook posts on The Guardian

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