Saturday, February 02, 2008

Insurance companies and web privacy

In class on Wednesday we discussed how insurance companies could use social networking or blogging sites to discover things about you. Apparently insurance companies are already looking at sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

In a lawsuit currently in New Jersey federal court, several families are suing Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield. The families are accusing Horizon of denying claims submitted for treating their children's anorexia and bulimia.

The judge in the case issued a court order requiring the families to turn over emails, diaries and any writings "shared with others, including entries on Web sites such as 'Facebook' or 'MySpace.'"

From the article:
Horizon claims that the children's online writings, as well as journal and diary entries, could shed light on the causes of the disorders, which determines the insurer's responsibility for payment. New Jersey law requires coverage of mental illness only if it is biologically based.

Horizon wants to use the kids' web postings to show that their eating disorders are caused by emotional problems and do not have a biological basis.

Imagine if insurance companies went back and read your blog postings and think about what they would be able to do with that information. They could see when you started complaining about symptoms of disease X. Even if you weren't diagnosed with disease X until after you signed up for insurance, couldn't the company use your own writings to prove that you had a pre-existing condition? As we discussed in class, insurance companies could look for people who post pictures of themselves drunk at parties or smoking and charge them higher premiums for being a "high risk".

Maybe you didn't post anything incriminating, but what about your friends? Could lifestyle factors that make you a higher risk be determined by analyzing who your friends are?


Kishor said...

It is hard to believe that insurance companies are making use of your web activity in such a way. If it is happening it is bad.

One question that comes to my mind is how do they relate your facebook profile to a profile in their records? If its based on your name and for that matter your location, it is even worse. I can create a profile on facebook with XYZ's name and location and list all sorts of diseases under his profile. May be they have to consider this.

Harry Chen said...

Kishor writes, "I can create a profile on facebook with XYZ's name and location and list all sorts of diseases under his profile."

Here is a thought. What if you create a fake profile of me, and write about me being a heavy smoker. Will my insurance premium go up? Do the insurance companies care if my health record on FB is incorrect?

My speculation is that they probably don't care. If record errors cause my premium to go up, that's even better for their business.

Like my credit record, it's my responsibility to monitor its accuracy and correct errors once I have discovered them. Like the credit companies, insurance companies will not take active role in correcting my record errors unless they are legally required to do so.

To make the matter worse, I wonder will I ever discover incorrect information was being used if the insurance companies don't share the secret algorithms they use to calculate my premium?