Insurer withdraws initiative with hours to go as privacy campaigners criticise ‘intrusive’ attempt to analyse users’ data
Admiral has been forced to pull a new initiative that used Facebook to analyse the personalities of car owners and set the price of their insurance after the social media site blocked it.
Admiral was due to launch firstcarquote officially on Wednesday but delayed it with just two hours to go.
Facebook said protecting the privacy of its users was of the utmost importance to it and it had clear guidelines about how information obtained from the site should be used.
Section 3.15 of Facebook’s platform policy states that the social media site’s data should not be used to “make decisions about eligibility, including whether to approve or reject an application or how much interest to charge on a loan”.
Admiral said it would now launch firstcarquote with “reduced functionality” after talks with Facebook.
The insurance company planned to analyse the Facebook accounts of first-time car owners to look for personality traits linked to safe driving. For example, individuals who are identified as conscientious and organised would score well.
Admiral intended to examine posts and likes, although not photos, looking for habits that research shows are linked to these traits. These include writing in short, concise sentences, using lists, and arranging to meet friends at a set time and place, rather than just “tonight”.
In contrast, evidence that the Facebook user might be overconfident – such as the use of exclamation marks and the frequent use of “always” or “never” rather than “maybe” – would count against them.
The scheme would be voluntary, and offer discounts rather than price increases, which could be worth up to £350 a year.
However, after Facebook blocked the scheme, an Admiral spokesperson said: “Firstcarquote, which will allow first time drivers to voluntarily share some social data with insurers for a simple and discounted quote, is currently a beta product.
“Admiral does not have access to customers’ Facebook data and does not hold social media data to set prices for its customers. Following discussions with Facebook the product is launching with reduced functionality, allowing first-time drivers to login using Facebook and share some information to secure a faster, simpler and discounted quote.”
Open Rights Group, the privacy campaign group, welcomed Facebook’s move and called Admiral’s scheme “intrusive”.
Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights, said: “We need to think about the wider consequences of allowing companies to make decisions that affect us financially or otherwise, based on what we have said on social media.
“Such intrusive practices could see decisions being made against certain groups based on biases about race, gender, religion or sexuality – or because their posts in some way mark them as unconventional. Ultimately, this could change how people use social media, encouraging self-censorship in anticipation of future decisions.
“Young people may feel pushed into such schemes because of financial constraints. The right to keep things private shouldn’t be the preserve of those who can afford it.”
Facebook has to give all applications that use its data final review before going live. A test website was already in operation by Admiral, but the full launch was due to take place this week.
Facebook said: “Protecting the privacy of the people on Facebook is of utmost importance to us. We have clear guidelines that prevent information being obtained from Facebook from being used to make decisions about eligibility.
“We have made sure anyone using this app is protected by our guidelines and that no Facebook user data is used to assess their eligibility. Facebook accounts will only be used for login and verification purposes.
“Our understanding is that Admiral will then ask users who sign up to answer questions which will be used to assess their eligibility.”
The insurance company faced criticism for the scheme from law firms. Tom Jones, head of policy at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “Their [insurance companies] repeated profiling of people is sadly unsurprising – this smacks of a captive market so arrogant it doesn’t care about how it treats or is seen to treat its customers. Thankfully Facebook has quickly taken steps that the insurers couldn’t see fit to do and pulled the plug on this shambles.”