The melding of social and business data

It had to happen eventually.  When Mark Zuckerberg said, “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time”, it meant to me that he, like a lot of other people, recognize that society has accepted the tremendous benefits of Internet-connectivity and that those benefits outweigh downside risk.  The list of risks, beyond the obvious cyber-crime, malware, and viruses, should include one with the potential for greater impact, that our personal information may be used for profit by those to whom we do not grant explicit permission for use. 

Today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal contains an interesting article about insurers mining data to profile clients.  We should all know that the insurance industry has forever relied on massive amounts of data in order to properly set premiums and to guarantee profit.  This is just smart business and indeed there is nothing unusual about exploiting data for those purposes.  The difference this time is that they are not only mining their own data that they collected.  Instead of relying upon blood and urine tests to form the basis of their decisions, they are attempting to extract accurate answers to that thorny question of who they should and should not insure from many external data sources that include: online shopping histories, catalog purchases, magazine subscriptions, and social-networking sites.  Sounds like a rich store of information upon which one could begin building a profile.  Apparently, the testing is at the earliest stages and processes are being built to allow for review of borderline cases.   That’s good because based only on what I read in the article, I think the “technology” has a long way to go before it can be trusted.  While I applaud the effort, I think there’s still too much room for error.  There’s too much hypothetical chance of someone being declined for a policy, or having to pay a much higher premium, perhaps, because of behavior they exhibit when interacting within their communities on Facebook, as an example.

I’m a big fan of computing, of its power and potential for improving our lives and the way we conduct our social and commercial affairs.  I’m also a big fan of circumspection, and human insight.  Let’s hope the two can always work well together.

About Peter Armaly
I get jazzed by automation, big data, and blockchain tech. Business, technology, and fitness are things I understand. Scotch, wine, food, and fiction are things I appreciate.

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