Data Mining Exec Pays For Burgers In Cash To Keep His Insurance Company From Knowing His Bad Diet Habits

from the privacy?-what's-that? dept

The Economist recently had an interesting article on how insurance companies are increasingly using data mining to "analyze risk." That is, they look through the data which was originally collected for the purpose of better marketing, and use it as a tool to see if you lead an unhealthy life. However, the really interesting point is highlighted by Kashmir Hill, where an exec at a datamining company admits that he's changed his habits because of this. Not his eating habits, mind you. But how he purchases food:
Insurers' interest in data mining will only grow, says Kevin Pledge, the boss of Insight Decision Solutions, an underwriting-technology consultancy based near Toronto.... Insurance firms will also analyse grocery purchases for clues about policyholders, he predicts. But that raises some sticky questions about privacy. Mr Pledge himself has begun to forgo his supermarket loyalty-card discount on junk food and pay for his burgers in cash. Promising as data mining is, much will depend on how regulators, and consumers, react.
He also notes that he's working on a system that will go through your social media profiles to see if you provide any info insurers may want to know about. This, of course, is the natural extension of our data explosion. But, in my experience, all of these companies who collect data seem to do an incredibly bad job at getting it right. And... as long as there's that "cash hole" for data, it's hard to see how accurate such information would really be.

Filed Under: data mining, health, insurance, social media


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2012 @ 5:37am

    All the ironies in this story.

    -If a government running a big insurance program covering all their citizens did this kind of spying on their own people there would be cries of Big Brother government telling you what to eat and how to live (remember those cries when congress considered a soda tax in the healthcare bill?).

    -The executive at a datamining company even realizes the dangers of people like his company collecting all his personal data and selling it to others. So he's changed to untraceable means of buying stuff, while continuing to endanger everyone else's privacy and sell it to insurance companies.

    -Because it's a private insurance company using this data to reject you when you come to buy insurance from them, this makes the data they're collecting even more dangerous then in the hands of a government trying to reduce it's expenses in some ways. If every insurance company reads the same data and all reject you from it then you're screwed, you have no way of knowing how to improve that data about your lifestyle, and they don't have to tell you why they rejected you. Sure you could switch to only eating salads and health food instead of greasy burgers, but how long would it take for people reading the data mined about you to think you've really changed to a healthy lifestyle when you used to eat burgers several times a week? A government forced to cover all it's citizens however can't just arbitrary cover healthy citizens bills and not unhealthy citizens, they'd have to do something indirect to effect your behavior to reduce their expenses, like put a 10 cent tax on greasy burgers to make people eat something cheaper and healthier.

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