Facebook and Admiral: A Real Cause for Concern

November 2, 2016

I need to insure my car. I am not prepared to tell potential insurers where I live because I know that they set premiums by post code – that doesn’t seem fair. I am not prepared to tell them how old I am because they think all young drivers are boy-racers (even the girls) and all septuagenarians are senile – and that’s not {i}entirely{/i} true. I am not prepared to tell them my profession because they think all journalists are drunks and all lawyers are honest and sober – obviously that is true, but it seems rude to proceed on that basis. I am not prepared to tell them anything about my driving record because, ridiculous as it may sound, they apparently think that just because you have driven through a hedge while drunk once …

My point is that insurance premiums are set in accordance with actuarial tables based on information and have been for years. Actuaries were at the forefront of the algorithmic prejudice that we all fear. That fear is soundly based; there are real concerns about prejudice being embedded into algorithms with a numbing effect on social justice. But {Admiral’s proposed use of Facebook posts: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37847647} does not seem to me to fall into the dangerous category – just a little tacky; though I view their claim that they would be calculating ‘discounts’ with some scepticism. The access to posts would be an option, not compulsory – it’s not spying but just another form of actuarial prejudice.

What might be viewed as more worrying is the fresh reminder that the data on that Facebook account is not yours. You might think that, notwithstanding the warnings about invasion of privacy, allowing your insurer access to your posts is fine and dandy – but that option is not now available to you. Facebook controls the use of that data not you. Its fight for its users’ privacy in this Admiral instance does seem to fit neatly with its defence of its unique advertising power. Go figure.

Isn’t Facebook’s dictatorial control of all this data the greater cause for concern?