Facebook: Posts Can’t Be Used For Pricing Car Insurance

The rollout of a new app has been delayed after Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) determined that posts to its social media site cannot be used to price car insurance for new drivers. Insurance company Admiral had intended to launch an app that used an algorithmic assessment of Facebook posts to price car insurance premiums for first time drivers. The algorithms would have analyzed how users’ Facebook posts were written to determine personality traits such as conscientiousness and organization. Those who scored high for specific traits would have been offered discounted premium rates.

Admiral said no price increases would be incurred as a result of using the app but discounts would be offered. The company also said that the analysis would be purely based on text updates to Facebook, not the photos uploaded to the site. The driver would have had to grant permission to the company to scan their Facebook posts in order to get a potential discount. Signing in with their Facebook login would have been enough to grant permission.

Project lead Dan Mines said in an interview, “We are doing our best to build a product that allows young people to identify themselves as safe drivers.” The app was also to include features that let new drivers see what some other new drivers have paid for car insurance and some details of the cars they drive.

Facebook is not prepared to share user data with Admiral for their eligibility assessment use-case. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed Admiral would only be able to use Facebook accounts for login and identity verification, not for scanning post data. All apps are subject to final review by the company before they can go live to ensure compliance with its platform policy.

Facebook’s platform policy does not allow this type of use of users’ information. The social media company puts strict limits on how developers on the platform can use the information users share with them. Using data obtained from Facebook to make decisions about eligibility is specifically prohibited by Clause 3.15 of the policy.

Facebook is already negatively implicated in state surveillance activity by intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Its own business model relies on profiling users for ad targeting. However, allowing companies to use Facebook posts for external assessments of individuals could discourage users from sharing personal data on the site.

Digital rights organization the Open Rights Group published a blog post praising Facebook for blocking Admiral from scanning users’ posts. The post states, “There are significant risks in allowing the financial or insurance industry to base assessments on our social media activity.” Later, it continues on to say, “Whether intentional or not, algorithms could perpetuate social biases that are based on race, gender, religion or sexuality. Without knowing the criteria for such decisions, how can we appeal against them?”