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.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  •  
    identicon
    Chilly8, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 12:16am

    As far as speeding or other traffic tickets go, they are only on your record for 3 to 5 years, depending on the jurisdiction that issued the ticket. Once a speeding ticket is no longer on your record, I don't see how they can find out.

     

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      That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 1:03am

      Re:

      Unless a data mining firm makes their own record of it in your file. There is no limit to how long they can keep data.

      A media story I saw online was about people who were having minor accidents and before they could even get a copy of the report there was a lawyer at the door or on the phone with a copy of the report and offering to help.

      This data is being gathered and collected, and there are no limits on what they can get, how long they keep it, or how it is used.

      The larger problem is when they attach someone else's record to yours.
      If a credit bureau attaches someone's information to your account, there is a process (no matter how much of a PITA it is) to have it corrected and they have to fix it.
      If a private data gathering firm screws up, you might never know. The data collected is "private" and they have no obligation to make sure it is the least bit accurate. Without people challenging what is in the records companies who use the firms services have no idea if they are getting good data.

      I've gotten tons of snail mail offering to help me get my free scooter through medicare. Except I'm no where near old enough for medicare, have nothing wrong that requires the use of a scooter, and they just keep sending more.
      That's more annoying than anything, but if that same record was handed to an insurance company it is very possible I would be facing higher rates.

       

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        weneedhelp (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 7:08am

        Re: Re:

        "lawyer at the door or on the phone with a copy of the report"

        I got a speeding ticket and the next day a letter showed up from a liar wanting to represent me. I called him and told him to go chase ambulances elsewhere.

        We have NO privacy anymore.

        1984 is creeping up fast.

         

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          Rikuo (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 8:15am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "from a liar wanting to represent me."

          Gotta ask. Was that mis-spelling intentional, or do people, when thinking of lawyers, just write down liar automatically, without thinking about it?

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 4:29am

      Re: That is easy

      They are only ACTIVE for a certain number of years (10 in my state). However, I just renewed my drivers license on-line, and looked at my driving record. Guess what I found, records going all the way back to when I received my first drivers license. I am quite certain that will show up on a search by the insurance companies, but even if it doesn't, they will have digital copies of those records because, guess what insurance companies pull your driving record at every renewal, and keep their own copy.

      Once data is 'out there' it can never really be clawed back.

      It is very scary what data mining can find out about people.

      15 years ago, I needed to have my septic tank cleaned. I hoped on-line, did a yellow pages search to find a business, made a call and thought nothing about it. Then I noticed I started getting ads for septic tank services on-line. I wasn't terribly surprised by that. A couple of days later I started getting flyers in the mail. That was a real eye opener. They have perfected their abilities by now.

      I read a few weeks ago about a company (may have been on this site, I don't recall) that knew a girl was pregnant, something like 2 weeks BEFORE she bought a pregnancy test.

      Seems like 'Minority Report" (the film) may be closer to reality than you know. Be careful what you think, because others probably know (but they don't need the precogs).

       

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        That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 4:49am

        Re: Re: That is easy

        I don't remember a story about that, but there has been coverage over Target having a system that is pretty targeted and how it needed to be modified some to stop creeping people out.
        http://www.techdirt.com/blog/innovation/articles/20120217/03044617792/getting-past-uncanny-val ley-targeted-advertising.shtml

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 6:28am

        Re: Re: That is easy

        I don't know if this is where the story originated, but there was a father upset about target sending coupons for baby item to his still in high school daughter.

        http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-w as-pregnant-before-her-father-did/

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 7:32am

        Re: Re: That is easy

        Car insurance isn't really a problem since there is healthy competition in that industry. If one company wants to screw you over a ticket 10 years old, another would be happy to give you a lower rate to get your business.

        Health insurance is a different ball game since most people have little affordable choice beyond their employer's provided coverage. Since many companies policy don't leave room to change individuals more, the bill goes up for everyone which means that eating a hamburger could lead to you losing your job if it means a bigger bill for the employer.

        I call BS on the pregnancy deal. They may have made a good guess based on her age for some targeted ads. Best they could do potentially would be if she talked about having un protected sex on facebook and they were able to time that with her ovulation based on Kroger plus data for tampon purchases.

         

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          That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 24th, 2012 @ 9:28am

          Re: Re: Re: That is easy

          Umm the details of the pregnancy thing was discussed here.
          They dug in the data and figured out certain purchases lead to clues, then they discovered if you send out a packet of for your new baby coupons the people get creeped out, so they print special packs of coupons with more baby ads that look like the normal ones.

           

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      JerkBro, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 5:57am

      Re:

      If any data warehousing company has attained a copy of the record in those 3-5 years they could hold on to it forever.

      Just because the primary source for the data removes it after X years doesn't mean everyone else does.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2012 @ 10:13am

      Re:

      Lexis Nexis or whatever they use can save the history.

       

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      Stephen, Jun 25th, 2012 @ 3:56pm

      Re:

      I think the main way I could foresee is that although the record goes away from official sources after the 3 to 5 years there's no guarantee that a note of your ticket that someone else has made within that period is destroyed at the same time. It needn't be your insurance company, it just needs to be someone that the insurer brings in to check on you.

       

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      Comacine (profile), Jun 25th, 2012 @ 4:20pm

      Re: Speeding Tickets

      INTERPOL has access to all the criminal records forever. It's only you, the insurance companies, who can't see the info. Law enforecement can see it if they have cause.

       

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    drew (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 12:53am

    But but but...

    ... won't someone think of the children?
    How long before someone interested group starts to claim that surely we need to lock down the web and stop all the evil and pernicious companies exploiting our children's data?


    Or we could let them grow up in this environment and figure out their own ways to control how much they choose to interact with it and what data they wish to share.

     

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      Christine Sandquist (profile), Jun 26th, 2012 @ 5:36pm

      Re: But but but...

      This is kind of a fine line. In the case of data mining, it's not so much people choosing what they're sharing as it is companies going through and compiling records based on even actions that would casually be considered to be fairly private, like what someone is buying at the grocery store. It seems a little wrong that anyone other than my credit card company or bank should be sharing my every purchase with, say, my insurance company.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 1:01am

    Hmm... So, by not using a discount card, he actually saves money due to a lower insurance rate? I wonder if people are just going to stop using those cards...

     

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      That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 1:08am

      Re:

      but what about the discounts?!

      And there are good uses of those cards, when there was the recall of the tainted vegetable protein in the last year or so I got a handy call from the grocer telling me I had purchased something that had been recalled.

      But there needs to be a balance, one just needs to balance out the options.

      The fact that an exec in that very market is actively trying to avoid being tracked should be a big red flag that things might have gone to far...

       

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        ltlw0lf (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 8:56am

        Re: Re:

        And there are good uses of those cards, when there was the recall of the tainted vegetable protein in the last year or so I got a handy call from the grocer telling me I had purchased something that had been recalled.

        Two companies have given me discount cards without requiring information from me. So they are tracking a phantom. Of course, if they have a need to contact me, they won't be able to. They may be able to use inference or surveillance to discover who I am, but I really haven't used them enough to be worth the trouble.

        However, I do have discount cards that I do have associated with my phone number (alone) or an email address (alone) which is quite useful for the reasons you mention, without providing additional information.

         

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          Chosen Reject (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 10:00am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure if you use those cards and then use a credit card on the same purchase, they'll associate the two and know who you are. I always give bogus data when getting those cards, but somehow the grocery store has been sending me special coupons. Not addressed to "Current resident" but addressed specifically to me.

           

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            ltlw0lf (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 12:18pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure if you use those cards and then use a credit card on the same purchase,

            I believe you are right. However, I've only used cash with one of the cards and have had no problems. The other card I have used with my credit cards, and checked at one point, using their computer, to see what information they had on the card, and it didn't show any data. Now whether they still associated it with my credit card in a super sekrit database somewhere, I have no idea. I've never seen any email (associated with my credit card) or phone traffic as a result of the card itself.

             

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    Liz (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 2:04am

    But, in my experience, all of these companies who collect data seem to do an incredibly bad job at getting it right.


    Not always. Here's a story from February about How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did. Target stores were using data mining and statistics for targeted advertising.

     

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      That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 2:08am

      Re:

      and that leaves out the story of the man who had to race home for months to get the mail before his wife, to yank the Target coupons from reminding her about the miscarriage.

       

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      That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 2:28am

      Re:

      And Target is serious about getting your data, did you know if you block the 3 or 4 tracking things they stuff on your computer you can't use their site?

      Keeps presenting a demand that cookies have to be enabled, no wonder last time I needed to buy something I went elsewhere. If you don't want me to browse your store online to see if you have what I want, WTF would I goto your store?

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 6:28am

      Re:

      Those companies doing it well are the exception (for now). Speaking from an insurance company that still does a terrible job collecting complete and meaning full data, I have to say that the lack of quality and usefulness of the information has not deterred management's desire for more. They are all convinced that there is some combination of measurable (or worse, unmeasurable) factors that will consistently turn every last policyholder into a profit center from which rivers of gold will flow. I have found that this unsupported belief is immune to all reasoned arguments.

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 2:49am

    Use Cash

    The only reason all these snooping companies get to know your purchases is because you choose to use a credit card. Anonymous cash purchases still work just fine. Choose privacy, if privacy is what you want. If you choose to use a credit card, you are telling them that you do not value your privacy, and inviting them to draw any conclusions they please.

    Of course, if they can do face recognition, then all bets are off. Funny how many cameras there are around these days, isn't it?

     

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      Jesse (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 8:49am

      Re: Use Cash

      I was thinking about this. How do you make purchases untraceable?

      The reason is I wanted to get VPN via bitcoins. But then I needed to get bitcoins. So I was going to pay cash to get a chargeable credit card, but everyone uses security cameras.

      An okay solution. If you just walk in with a mask, people get weird. Instead, ride a motorcycle. Park a ways away, so as not to get your license plate on parking lot cameras. Keep the helmet on, tinted visor. I used to do this all the time when I rode, out of convenience; it can be a hassle to take off the gloves and mask just for a quick purchase.

      Alternatively, you could just buy yourself a burqa for an anonymous day of cross dressing (for the men anyways).

      Lastly, you could do it on silk road. Also, use a string of bitcoin tumblers for extra security.

      I don't really need this level of security, but it is more of a thought challenge as a proof of concept.

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 3:17am

    "all of these companies who collect data seem to do an incredibly bad job at getting it right... it's hard to see how accurate such information would really be."

    Yeah, uh-huh, sure.

    "Move along folks, nothing to see here. Nothing to worry about."

    why am I not surprised...

     

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    ohrn (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 3:28am

    Individual insurance rates.

    I've never understood the race to data-mine insurance customers to the bone.

    Insurance is supposed to share risk as a collective, but if my rate is exactly tailored to my individual risk, then what purpose does the insurance company serve me? Seems I could just put that money into my own savings account and use it when shit happens.

    /ohrn

     

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    Wolfy, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 3:47am

    I use my card for cash withdrawls only. Use some sense if you don't want to leave a data trail a mile wide.

     

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    relghuar, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 5:36am

    ...as long as there's that "cash hole"...

    I REALLY hope you're not proposing to close that "hole".
    The moment any "well-meaning" politician starts seriously talking about forcing credit card payments, I'll go get a bunch of false credit cards.

     

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      That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 5:48am

      Re: ...as long as there's that "cash hole"...

      they will never close the cash hole, how else would they get their bribes?

       

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      FarSide (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 6:13am

      Re: ...as long as there's that "cash hole"...

      That sounds like you are a tax evader to me! Or worse yet, a terrorist!

      I have no doubt in my mind that there have been several explorations of this very thing. Whether it will come to pass in the next 20 or 30 years, I am not sure.

      From the point of view of the government, they have the right to tax any and all transactions between people. They just don't have the tech to enforce it.

      Once they can get it together, I think there will be a push to cut down on these 'tax loopholes', which is their favorite language to get people to support getting taxed more.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 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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      FarSide (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 6:04am

      Re:

      "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."

      Or make large sodas illegal! That's just crazy! It's a good thing we can trust that government won't ever be able to do stuff like that...

      Also, you don't HAVE to buy insurance (yet).

      Don't get me wrong - I think insurance companies are right behind banks when it comes to bad entities. But both of them are far, far behind the govt. because they take the others' money and look the other way and enable them.

      In other words, don't make a false dichotomy of having to like either the govt or the big insurance companies - I don't trust any of 'em.

       

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    identicon
    John Doe, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 5:57am

    There is a consumer loyalty card hole as well

    I have a Kroger grocery store card that I never registered. I get the discounts for the card but they don't have any record of who is using the card. Though I guess the could figure it out by the credit card used to pay and maybe they are?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 8:05am

      Re: There is a consumer loyalty card hole as well

      Yes, if you have ever used a check or credit/debit card with the loyalty card it has been attached to your identity.

      Get a new loyalty card every time you shop!

      "I have a Kroger grocery store card that I never registered. I get the discounts for the card but they don't have any record of who is using the card. Though I guess the could figure it out by the credit card used to pay and maybe they are?"

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 6:02am

    With facial recognition cameras at the check failure to in plastic will be viewed as an attempt at cover up, not as one right to antisemitic.

     

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    Brent (profile), Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 6:46am

    I love this site but the more articles I read here the more disgusted I am over corporations and government corruption. The way the executive in the article seems to lackadaisically discuss extreme violation of individual privacy is abhorrent. I've always hate the 'legitimate scam' industry that is the insurance business and this certainly didn't help. Now it seems data miners will cause as much restriction on the internet as the government is trying to do behind our backs anyways.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 8:07am

      Re:

      It's not a violation of your privacy. There either aren't any laws that prevent it, or you gave your permission by agreeing to a EULA or other contract.

      The worst part is that they then sell or provide the data to the government which is prohibited from collecting this information themselves.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 7:02am

    How funny would it be if the headline was:

    Data Mining Exec Pays For Burgers In Cash To Keep His Insurance Company From Knowing His Bad Diet Habits. Follow Him On Twitter, Facebook, ....

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2012 @ 9:10am

    Well you could just lie about your name for the card. My Walgreens and Kroger card both say I'm Mike Hunt rofl. "I know I was high and it just happened."

    It's like Hucks always asking for my birthday when I buy smokes.
    Date of birth sir? 5/5/1936 and they enter it without blinking. Keep in mind I'm not even 30 rofl..

     

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    241 (profile), Jun 23rd, 2012 @ 5:06pm

    How would Insurance Companies even know?

    A huge question (to me) not addressed in this article:

    If this person buys junk food with his credit card, perhaps his bank could know and the retailer could know, but how would the insurance company know?

    Unless the insurance company is part of the same corporation as the bank or junk food retailer -- which would be strange, right?

     

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    Chilly8, Jun 23rd, 2012 @ 7:10pm

    One way to solve this is to use a card where records are not kept as long. Most banks keep records for 6 years, PayPal only keeps records for 2 years. After reading this article, I have started making purchases that might raise the eyebrows of insurers, such as eating at Denny's, whose fare is not exactly considered health food, using my PayPal card, where the records will only be there for 2 years.

     

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      That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 24th, 2012 @ 9:34am

      Re:

      They might only be in the PayPal data base for 2 years, but who else has access to that data? Is Denny's data mining and keeping track of you.

      This is the problem is there is so much data, so many ways to get it, and no clear rules about all the details.

      I had my high school sell out decades of graduates to a company who wanted to sell us a directory of everyone for like 50 or 60 years... they paid the school for access to the records and gave them a cut of every sale, in return they were handed the full transcripts of every class, every teacher, every grade... of course they don't share information but funny I got a brand new wave of targeted mail to my full name that I never use...

       

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