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Facebook blocks insurer exploiting user data to find 'conscientious' drivers

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Admiral Insurance wanted to analyze Facebook users' posts to see if they would make good drivers

Admiral Insurance

Facebook has blocked one of the UK’s biggest insurers from using the social media network's user data to set insurance rates. A recently-launched scheme from Admiral Insurance targeted first-time car owners, offering to analyze their Facebook posts to see if their personality traits matched those of successful drivers. Participants were told they could save as much as £350 ($429) a year on their car insurance if they were judged to be conscientious and well-organized.

The scheme, named firstcarquote, was set to launch this week, but, as first noted by UK privacy advocates Open Rights Group, the app has been blocked by Facebook from accessing user data. The initiative from Admiral Insurance would contravene Facebook’s Platform Policy, which states that developers cannot "use data obtained from Facebook to make decisions about eligibility, including whether to approve or reject an application or how much interest to charge on a loan."

Facebook has blocked the app from accessing user data

In a statement given to The Verge, a spokesperson for the social network said: "We have made sure anyone using this app is protected by our guidelines and that no Facebook user data is used to assess their eligibility. Facebook accounts will only be used for login and verification purposes. Our understanding is that Admiral will then ask users who sign up to answer questions which will be used to assess their eligibility."

According to a report from The Guardian, the algorithms used by firstcarquote were designed to scan the posts and likes of Facebook users in order to judge their character. Habits such as writing in short concrete sentences, using lists, and mentioning specific locations were seen as positive traits, correlated with conscientiousness. But if users frequently used exclamation marks or definitive language like "always" and "never" they would be judged to be over-confident instead, and would not get a discounted rate.

"Very much a test product."

Dan Mines of Admiral Insurance told The Guardian the scheme was "very much a test product," and noted that the data would only ever be used to provide a discount, not to increase the amount of money a first-time driver would pay. "This is innovative, it is the first time anyone has done this," said Mines. "We don’t know if people are prepared to share their data."

Following the news that Facebook will be blocking the app, a spokesperson for Admiral told The Verge: "Following discussions with Facebook the product is launching with reduced functionality, allowing first time drivers to login using Facebook and share some information to secure a faster, simpler and discounted quote."

But this isn't the first instance of a company using social media data in this way, and certainly won't be the last. Earlier this year, a UK startup launched a set of tools for landlords that analyzed information from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts to assess how likely individuals were to repay their rent. And while social media posts may be a relatively inaccurate way of judging an individual’s personality or credit-worthiness, there are other types of data available. Wearable technology and fitness trackers, for example, are being looked at by insurers as a way of tracking customers' health and encouraging fitness.

Update October 2nd, 7.44AM ET: The story has been updated with comment from Facebook.

Update October 2nd, 10.06AM ET: The story has been updated with comment from Admiral.