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Privacy Risk in the Web 2.0 World

Privacy measures implemented before Web 2.0 may be inadequate, as new risks emerge. To protect themselves from those risks, insurers need to ask which sources of customer information are reliable and safe and which are dangerous; and they need to ask what kinds of information shared may be repurposed in ways that could expose customers to harm, and insurers to penalties.

Observers of the impact of technology on society have suggested that Web 2.0 killed privacy while we weren't looking: information formerly regarded as nobody else's business has become front page material at millions of Facebook and MySpace pages across the country and, indeed, the world. However, individuals' personal laxity about their private information doesn't lighten insurers' responsibilities in that respect, warned Shamla Naidoo, WellPoint's vice president for security and compliance, speaking at I&T's Executive Summit earlier this week.Consumers routinely supply a variety of information to a variety of data collection points, such as social networking sites, Web-based e-mail service providers and search engines, in order to get access to services or simply communicate with friends and relatives. What consumers may fail to appreciate is not only how much that information can tell malicious parties about them, but that the original purpose of sharing that data may expire while the data remains available.

"What happens if two of those [data aggregating] organizations merge?" Naidoo said. "Maybe they collected that information to let me establish an e-mail account; does that purpose still remain?"

Naidoo's point was that information shared has a life of its own. "It is easy to share you information and nearly impossible to unshare it," as she puts it.

That's a lesson that applies not only to private individuals but also to parties, such as insurance companies, that are trusted with protecting customers' privacy. What it means in practical terms is that privacy measures implemented before Web 2.0 may be inadequate, as new risks emerge. To protect themselves from those risks, insurers need to ask which sources of customer information are reliable and safe and which are dangerous; and they need to ask what kinds of information shared may be repurposed in ways that could expose customers to harm, and insurers to penalties.Privacy measures implemented before Web 2.0 may be inadequate, as new risks emerge. To protect themselves from those risks, insurers need to ask which sources of customer information are reliable and safe and which are dangerous; and they need to ask what kinds of information shared may be repurposed in ways that could expose customers to harm, and insurers to penalties.

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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