Data Privacy

Facebook v Admiral – or better ways to share personal data for discounts in a user-friendly fashion

When you take away all the twists and turns of Admiral v Facebook, this whole saga boils down to innovation being stifled by who controls your data.

If you choose to share your personal data in exchange for a deal or discount if you meet the criteria, that can only be a good thing, right?

Well, not when that data is actually part of your Facebook profile, and a car insurance giant is trying to use it to see whether 17 to 21-year-olds – traditionally expensive to insure as they’re inexperienced and statistically prone to risky behaviour – could qualify for cheaper premiums.

On the face of it, Admiral Car Insurance’s new firstcarquote app seemed like a good idea. Volunteer (and that word is important) to share some of your Facebook data with the insurance provider, and if an algorithm run over it picked up characteristics of a careful driver, then your premium would go down.

No brainer, right? Well, no – it was a plan that fell at the first hurdle, as Facebook was quick to block the app as being in violation of its platform terms and conditions, which don’t allow data obtained from the site to be used to check eligibility and which, to be fair, Admiral should have been aware of.

Facebook’s block was, in turn, welcomed by the Open Rights Group, whose Executive Director Jim Killock said “We need to think about the wider consequences of allowing companies to make decisions that affect us financially or otherwise, based on what we have said on social media.

“Young people may feel pushed into such schemes because of financial constraints. The right to keep things private shouldn’t be the preserve of those who can afford it.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office also cautioned against social data being used in this manner, with the UK’s data watchdog telling ITPro: “The law says that the use of personal information must be fair.

“A key part of that fairness is ensuring that people are informed about how their data will be collected and used and it is processed fairly. This applies to using personal information acquired from social networking sites.

“We are paying particular attention to the increasing use of new ‘social scoring’ techniques to ensure that these developments proceed in accordance with the law.”

In a further twist, it also brought to the fore reports from last year that Facebook already has its own patent for using the site’s social graph to establish creditworthiness, although no further details about that planned use have yet emerged.

But actually, when you take away all the twists and turns, this whole saga boils down to innovation being stifled by who controls data.

If a young driver is happy to allow Admiral’s app to scan his or her profile, looking at text only, to determine whether they appear to be a careful driver, they have now lost that chance.

It’s scanning their data, uploaded by them, and using the app is voluntary and – at this stage – could only result in a discount, but that opportunity – innovative and useful to both sides, a clear value exchange – has been denied.

Think how different this would be in the vision of the Internet of Me – where the individual is at the centre of their connected world, in control of their data and who it is shared with.

In that world, Admiral asks for permission through the app to access the user’s data, being clear about what it is for and what will be offered in exchange, and the user says yes or no. If it’s affirmative, data processing can be done on the app, meaning the data never even has to leave its secure library.

Admiral gets the information it needs to make a thorough assessment, and the user gets a discount on their car insurance, assuming they qualify.

But, crucially, it is the user who makes the choice about whether they are happy for their data to be used in this manner.

Trust is crucial to sharing, but control is even more important to ensure that users are free to use data that belongs to and was created by them.

Time for a change in who owns what, if we want to be the masters of our own identity – for better or for worse!