Do social networks know too much about us? - The Social Element

Do social networks know too much about us?


As you’ve heard me say before, it’s both brilliant and disturbing that Facebook knows when you’re in a relationship before you announce it publicly. This ability to understand, and even predict, behaviour and emotions can be alarming, but it can also be really helpful in some cases – for example, if you’re identifying a pattern of behaviour that could indicate depression, and when intervention might save a life.
But when does it go too far for comfort? According to media reports, insurance companies in New York can now use data from their customers’ social media posts to assess their risk and set insurance premiums. The City’s Department of Financial Services’ guidelines say insurance companies can use ‘non traditional’ sources of data as long as this doesn’t lead to unfair discrimination for protected groups (listed as “race, color, creed, national origin, status as a victim of domestic violence, past lawful travel, or sexual orientation in any manner, or any other protected class”).
So it’s possible that if you post a photo of yourself smoking a cigarette, or having a glass of wine (or two), that could be used against you by insurers. So, conceivably, could a picture that shows you to be over your ideal weight, a post saying you’re not getting enough sleep, or photos of too many meals out. More worryingly, presumably if Facebook can interpret behaviour that indicates depression, so could insurers.
But if you check in to a gym, share your running maps or fitbit stats on social media, share healthy recipes and never post about your favourite gin bar, your insurance premiums could go down.
In a world where we value authenticity from brands (and each other) on social media, this is going to cause a dilemma – do you value authenticity more than low insurance premiums? Perhaps we’ll all have an official, insurance-friendly presence on social media (and then a true version under a different name), or we’ll game the system. Or maybe we’ll genuinely all start going to Zumba classes, drinking carrot juice and going to bed at nine o’clock to get our premiums down. (Won’t social media be a dull place if that happens?)
Perhaps we’ll just stop posting publicly altogether, instead sharing with our friends on closed apps, locking down our social media profiles completely.
Whatever we decide to do, it’s clear to me that if this trend continues, we will need to be more mindful how and where our data is used, and what we should be doing to protect our privacy.