How many times did you go to look something up on Wikipedia yesterday? I think I went around 10 times. But as has been well-reported, I was thwarted by the site's blackout in protest of the SOPA and PIPA bills. I'm not in much of a position to comment on the legislation. I did read InformationWeek's 10 Key Facts about SOPA, which were helpful. What I learned from reading more about the bills today, though, wasn't so much about how the regulatory framework would affect the process of doing insurance on the web. Rather, when looking at a broader view of how regulation affects insurance IT, SOPA shows where the CIO-relevant battles are most likely to be fought.
For example, when discussing the very real opportunity in using social media for claims and underwriting purposes, insurers are often gunshy to do so for fear of appearing as though they are "spying." Farmers director of social media Ryon Harms works with the company's agent force to help them build customer relationships on Facebook and other social networks. In a conversation last year, I asked him: What do you think about this other potential use for social networks? Do you think if it became popular, it would undercut the marketing potential for the channel?
"I’m sure that it kind of would," he replied. "That's why I haven't really thought of it that way even though it's out there. No one likes to have the big brother. The good news is that since we started out as a 'good cop,' I see can say, 'Let's not do that, we don’t want to mess with that.' My inclination would be to push away from that big-brother approach."
(For more, see Anthony O'Donnell's articles on the topic, "Insurance Fraud Fighters Accused of 'Snooping' on Facebook Accounts" and "Concerns Persist on Insurance Company Social Media 'Spying'")
When you see the vehement, mainstream opposition to SOPA and PIPA regulations, compared with the relatively fringe, financially focused protests such as Occupy Wall Street, you get an indication of where opposition to insurers' practices is likely to be most dynamic: If you mess with people's technology, there will be a strong, unified reaction. Technology users are savvy and will oppose en masse any effort they see as an attempt to make the internet a less free place. In this case, they may have been channeling that anger against a piece of regulation — but in the wrong situation, they could champion the regulation themselves.
In the era of big data, CIOs and other technologists at insurance companies are going to get lots of requests to push the established boundaries between corporations and people on the internet. If you're thinking about coming out with a new initiative that could set off privacy alarms among consumers, it's advisable to learn from what's happened with SOPA and PIPA. It's why we at I&T hear so much about customer experience and transparency in our conversations with insurance executives. It's not about stopping innovation; rather, it's about being smart with your practices and anticipating consumers' reactions to new capabilities.
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, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio