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12:25 PM
Nathan Golia
Nathan Golia
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Facebook Users Expose Too Much to Insurers: Consumer Reports

The organization says that insurers could "use against" policyholders the fact that they "like" a page about "health conditions or treatments." But is that all insurers get out of social?

Add Consumer Reports to the list of entities concerned about insurance companies' "spying" on social media. The consumer advocacy organization surveyed 1,340 active Facebook users about their privacy practices on the social network for its annual State of the Net report. Atop its list of "causes for concern" is the following:

Some people are sharing too much. Our projections suggest that 4.8 million people have used Facebook to say where they planned to go on a certain day (a potential tip-off for burglars) and that 4.7 million “liked” a Facebook page about health conditions or treatments (details an insurer might use against you).

This isn't going to help policyholders get more comfortable interacting with their health insurers on social media: as PwC recently reported, people are uncomfortable with doing so. In fact, 41% of respondents to the PwC research said they were "concerned that their health insurance coverage might be impacted due to information shared on social media." Consumer Reports' research seems to validate that. This pervasive trepidation probably explains why, when health insurers create mobile or social capabilities, they are careful to address privacy concerns. As Independence Blue Cross SVP of marketing services John Janney said last year about the company's pedometer app, "We don't log the information ourselves, so we're not monitoring everybody's daily life."

It's actually been P&C insurers that have been the most open about using social media to evaluate the veracity of claims. Plymouth Rock VP of claims Mike Cesinger told me earlier this year that policyholders can expose a surprising amount of information via social networks. Young people in particular, he says, "have much more desire to be totally forthcoming in their social media posts, and that sometimes can be gold for an insurance investigation."

But at the same time, not every insurer in that line of business sees claims investigation as the No. 1 application for the channel. Mercury Insurance chief claims officer Joanna Moore would prefer that Facebook users hearken the first point Consumer Reports makes, about creating burglary risk on social media: "There are bad elements that are trying to find opportunities to go to peoples' homes when they're overseas," she says. "It's the awareness that people need to start thinking about." (At the same time, however, Moore says that Mercury's SIU uses social media "judiciously" to evaluate claims.)

And Ryon Harms, Farmers director of social media who works with the company's agents to build trust with their customers on social media, is concerned that if insurers look at social media more as an investigative platform than a relational one, it could undo lots of the work they're doing on the marketing side to build trust through the channel.

"No one likes to have the big brother," he told me earlier this year. "The good news is that since we started out as a 'good cop,' I 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."

Insurers are walking a fine line between seeing social as a way to connect with their policyholders, while also acknowledging its applicability in fraud investigations. One hopes there won't come a time when one of these use cases will have to be sacrificed so the other can thrive.

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

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