January 15, 2013

Not an interview has gone by where I've spoken with an insurance company executive on such topics as automotive telematics, social media, and big data where the phrase "privacy concerns" hasn't been used. Insurers are caught in between wanting to leverage new data sources for better underwriting and rating, and knowing that the industry's reputation makes it difficult to do so without a fight.

For an example, check this headline on Insure.com: "First vehicle-monitoring devices, now this" -- demonstrates potential exasperation with insurers' insidious presence in their policyholders lives, as illustrated by USAA's patent for an in-home data recorder.

The recorder, according to the article:

will record conditions that "have led to damage or destruction of the building" or to "forecast the possibility of future damage or destruction." The device can track the temperature, wind speed and mechanical vibrations as they affect the house, as well as humidity, which could cause mold in the walls.

The writer goes on to say that it sounds like a good idea "for the insurance company, but not necessarily for the homeowner." It also quotes a consumer-group leader who outlines how insurers could use the data from such a device to cancel a policy. And this is talking about a company with one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings in the homeowners insurance industry!

But the fight isn't just taking place in the media. Two companies have recently released security offerings where the benefit presented to consumers is in preventing insurance companies from gaining access to their data.

Southern Pines, N.C.-based Autocyb provides a "lock" for in-vehicle event data recorders, a mandate for which has been proposed. Autocyb says in a statement that "data collected by EDRs, without the driver's knowledge, has been used in civil and criminal cases in several states and in Canada. Automotive insurance companies are considering basing policy rates on EDR data. Auto manufacturers could use EDR data to void warranties. The possibilities are endless."

Boston-based Abine has expanded its DeleteMe service to mobile, allowing consumers to "search, find, remove, and monitor their personal information on data brokers' websites – all from the convenience of their iOS mobile devices, like iPhones and iPads."

Why would consumers want to do so? Well, information on data brokers' websites "is available to employers, insurance companies, and individuals willing to pay a small fee. Such practices leave individuals susceptible to inaccuracies that can result in damaging assumptions about a person's history, reputation, and character," according to the company.

There are a lot of exciting technological innovations going on in the insurance industry that warrant exploration and implementation. But these developments show that there's still a minefield of distrust with the industry among consumers that must be navigated with care if these strategies are to gain adoption.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, ...