How your Facebook profile can lower your car insurance

Updated: One insurance provider wants access to your Facebook account to determine the cost of coverage.

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CNET UK

Vehicle insurance seems to become more and more expensive every year -- but to bring the cost of coverage down, Admiral wants access to your Facebook data.

The vehicle insurance provider, based in Cardiff, Wales, has launched a new scheme to give new drivers "fair insurance." In order to do so, Admiral is asking new and young drivers to reveal their Facebook account addresses.

Admiral says that this information can be used in the same way that credit providers can tell "whether a person is a good or bad credit risk" via social media posts. In the case of insurance, your profile can apparently be used to assess your personality and the likelihood of incidents on the road.

The insurance provider quoted HSE research (.PDF) and stated that "some personalities are more likely to have an accident than others," but as standard insurance does not measure personality, quotes may not be as fair as they could be. According to the RAC, for example, men in the 15 - 25 years age bracket are three times more likely to die from a traffic accident than women in the same group.

However, men -- and women -- who pay for the overall increased risk in this age bracket may be able to get a fair assessment if they can prove they are likely to be careful drivers, despite their age.

Admiral says that by exploring "some" of a driver's Facebook data as part of a "statistical snapshot," the company can analyze for indicators that determine whether or not you are likely to be a responsible driver.

If Admiral believes new driver applicants will be, they can give a discount of up to 15 percent on their quote.

"Your Facebook data will only be used to help us calculate driver safety and determine any discount," the company says. "We process this information you share to help us understand you better. We compare the type of information you share with us to thousands of other customers and make a form of prediction about the way you might drive."

Admiral is quick to say that only the last six months or so of activity will be included in risk assessment algorithms and your information is not shared with other parties. In addition, the insurance provider says that new drivers will not be penalized for posts they are tagged in -- rather, Admiral only takes into account "posts that were explicitly written by you."

This is not the only data-driven solution which has come into force in the insurance field. Admiral, among other companies, now offers voluntary black boxes which are fitted in cars to lower car insurance.

These boxes collect data including speed, distance, and route metrics as the vehicle is in use and lowers premiums for driving practices which are considered sensible -- but also keep an eye on your mileage, and so the boxes would flag up any discrepancies between the expected mileage submitted at the time of a quote and reality.

It would be interesting to know exactly what information Admiral believes it can glean from a Facebook profile which relates to how a driver acts on the road. Aside from some obvious elements, such as boasting over souped-up cars or a selfie when driving back from a house party, it is not that obvious.

However, the idea may not take off at all. A statement posted by the Open Rights Group suggests that Admiral's scheme is in violation of Facebook policies, in particular, section 3.15 which states:

"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."

If this is the case for insurance too, Facebook has the power to block Admiral's program entirely. Facebook has reportedly blocked the company's app but whether or not the insurance provider can circumvent this remains to be seen.

Black boxes, while they may be considered intrusive by some, at least provide hard metrics on driving performance. Facebook profiles cannot.

Update 12.36 GMT: A Facebook spokesman told ZDNet:

"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."

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