How to Protect Your Online Data From Insurance Companies
Insurance providers have long limited the types of goods, services and people they’re willing to cover. In no other insurance sector is this more pronounced than life insurance, which typically approves applicants based on factors like health, lifestyle and finances.
Traditionally, life insurance applicants must submit urine and blood tests to provide carriers with a measurable profile of current and future health factors. With continuous advances in online ad tracking and behavioral marketing, however, some insurers now look to data-mining firms to help them replace this costly and painful step with electronic prescreening.
Data miners provide insurance companies with all manner of personal shopping, browsing and messaging habits, along with a comprehensive history of status updates, tweets and the like. Welcome to the latest in the unauthorized use of your private data. This article will explore how this practice works and how it’s abused, as well as how you can keep your sensitive data safe from the prying eyes of data miners and insurers. Bottom line, read on and know how to protect your online data from insurance companies.
How do insurance companies stalk you online?
Every website you visit, every email you send, every advertisement you intentionally (or unintentionally) click — you divulge information about yourself. Most of this data takes the form of cookies, or small text files in your Web browser that store information. Cookies can store log-in and browsing information for a unique website, remember language preferences or location data or track your behavior as you surf the Internet.
The last type of cookie, also called a “third-party ad-tracking cookie,” is easily the most invasive. It allows Internet marketing and data-mining firms to gather vast amounts of information based on your browsing behavior — and then paint a virtual picture of who you are. Valuable to every conceivable commercial entity, the data obtained by third-party ad-tracking cookies can lead to highly targeted online marketing, predictive modeling and, at worst, weblining(essentially, redlining for the Internet age). Know how to protect your online data from insurance companies.
Build a digital data profile that reflects your physical self.
None of this information should shock seasoned Internet users. The insurance industry is simply using existing data to acquire more clients at less cost. In this case the data is used less for targeted advertising and more as a means to discriminate. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, insurance providers Aviva, AIG and Prudential have used the services of Deloitte Consulting and similar companies to explore the potential of data profiling not only for prescreening purposes, but also as a legitimate cost-cutting measure (Deloitte estimates savings over traditional means at $125 per applicant).
Such practices could result in near-blind, preferential treatment for those whose online (and offline) behaviors reflects a healthy lifestyle — and extra hurdles for those with seemingly unhealthy online profiles.
For example, someone with a subscription to magazines for individuals of high net worth, a platinum credit card, a purchase history of sports equipment and a home in a wealthy neighborhood would be a shoo-in for a preferred policy. Contrast that with a renter in a poorer area who has a premium cable subscription and orders diet plans online. This person would likely not only have to take the traditional tests, but would also be scrutinized throughout the application process. The latter applicant, of course, would probably end up paying more for less coverage.
How to keep your online behavior away from insurance companies
There’s no easy answer to this problem. In response to the widespread, unauthorized and — astonishingly enough — legal collection and sale of personal information, some “do not track” legislation has been proposed. Unfortunately, no final solution looms on the horizon. That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s nothing you can do to safeguard your personal data right now. Know how to protect your online data from insurance companies
Just for starters, you can
Until more comprehensive legislation comes along, these simple strategies can help you maintain a positive image both online and offline.
Tom Winston specializes in matters of Internet privacy, SEO, and online reputation management (ORM). He contributes articles to a wide range of print and online publications. He lives and works in the San Francisco Bay area.