Admiral made an announcement that it would use data from consenting Facebook users to predict their driving attributes. Right after this announcement, Facebook blocked Admiral’s account, thereby ruining their plans. The scheme was already running in beta and was due to launch fully this week, but in a move to reassure users of the privacy of their data, Facebook issued a statement that they have strict guidelines regarding the usage of their information. The app will now launch with ‘reduced functionality’. Admiral’s scheme was labelled ‘Intrusive’ by Open Rights Group, and the Information Commissioner’s Office emphasised companies’ duty to handle personal information fairly and legally.
The original scheme was that Admiral Insurance would analyse the Facebook accounts of first-time car owners to look for personality traits that are linked to safe driving. For example, individuals who are identified as conscientious and well-organised would score well. The insurer would also examine posts and likes by the Facebook user, although not photos, looking for habits that research shows are linked to these traits. These include writing in short concrete 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” – will count against them.
Admiral says that firstcarquote offers a way for young drivers to identify themselves as safe rather than having to wait years while they build up a track record and a no claims bonus. Dan Mines, who led the firstcarquote project at Admiral, denied that it was invasive of personal data. “It is incredibly transparent. If you don’t want to use it in a quote then you don’t have to,” he said. “We are doing our best to build a product that allows young people to identify themselves as safe drivers.”
“I think the future is unknown. We don’t know if people are prepared to share their data. If we find people aren’t sharing their data, then we won’t ever get to consider that [expanding firstcarquote]”, Mines added.
The scheme is based around algorithms that have been developed by Admiral. The technology uses social data to make a personality assessment and then, judging against real claims data, analyse the risk of insuring the driver.
Yossi Borenstein, the principal data scientist on firstcarquote, said its algorithm looked for correlations between social media data and actual claims data. The technology will evolve as firstcarquote attracts customers and gathers more evidence about the correlations, meaning the importance of items identified on social media could change.
Borenstein said: “Just like conscientiousness there are other traits which can be indicative of safe driving. Our algorithm for calculating what ‘safe’ looks like is constantly learning, as we match social data to actual claims data.
“Our analysis is not based on any one specific model, but rather on thousands of different combinations of likes, words and phrases and is constantly changing with new evidence that we obtain from the data. As such our calculations reflect how drivers generally behave on social media, and how predictive that is, as opposed to fixed assumptions about what a safe driver may look like.”
Borenstein insisted that Admiral would not have access to information about what its customers look at on Facebook or what their friends do. The company would only have access to the information gathered during the quote process and would have no ongoing access.
“If this is successful, it could be revolutionary,” he said. “It could be truly transformational.”
An Admiral spokesman said: “The launch of our firstcarquote trial has had to be delayed. We’ve been working closely with Facebook in Europe to get the service ready, and are now addressing a few outstanding issues. We hope that very soon we will be able to offer first-time drivers better deals on their car insurance.”