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Social media, insurance and asymmetric information

Summary:
Can a Facebook Post Make Your Insurance Cost More? With insurers likely to add social media to the data they review before issuing policies, it might be wise to post pictures from the gym—but not happy hour by Ellen Byron and Leslie Scism of The WSJ.This reminds me of what economists call "asymmetric information." This is a situation in which the seller knows more about a product than the buyer (sometimes the buyer knows more about something important like how healthy or risky they are as it relates to insurance). These markets do not operate optimally. If insurance companies don't know how healthy or risky you are, they can't be sure of how much your premiums should be. But with fitness tracking, they learn more about you. My students might recall I discussed this after we played

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Can a Facebook Post Make Your Insurance Cost More? With insurers likely to add social media to the data they review before issuing policies, it might be wise to post pictures from the gym—but not happy hour by Ellen Byron and Leslie Scism of The WSJ.

This reminds me of what economists call "asymmetric information." This is a situation in which the seller knows more about a product than the buyer (sometimes the buyer knows more about something important like how healthy or risky they are as it relates to insurance). These markets do not operate optimally. If insurance companies don't know how healthy or risky you are, they can't be sure of how much your premiums should be. But with fitness tracking, they learn more about you. My students might recall I discussed this after we played the supply and demand game in class. A good example is the used car market. Sellers usually know alot more about the product than the buyers.

I play a game in class that touches on insurance. Click here to see the Lessons From the Supply and Demand Game.

Excerpts from the article, which explains how insurance companies are trying to get more information about you:

"Did you document your hair-raising rock-climbing trip on Instagram? Post happy-hour photos on Facebook ? Or chime in on Twitter about riding a motorcycle with no helmet? One day, such sharing could push up your life insurance premiums.

In January, New York became the first state to provide guidance for how life insurers may use algorithms to comb through social media posts—as well as data such as credit scores and home-ownership records—to size up an applicant’s risk. The guidance comes amid expectations that within years, social media may be among the data reviewed before issuing life insurance as well as policies for cars and property.

New York set a high bar, requiring insurers to prove that any social-media data used in underwriting is actuarially justified, logical for use and doesn’t unfairly discriminate against certain customers.

“We’re going through a period now where most life insurers are exploring using all types of data, not just data they get directly from the customer proactively, but other external sources of data—social media being a big one,” said Ari Libarikian, a senior partner at McKinsey & Co. in New York.

He anticipates that some day, underwriters will assess potential customers with automated reports based in part on their social media use. “It’s here to some degree and it’s coming in the next couple of years,” Mr. Libarikian said."

"The time and effort to monitor an applicant’s online presence can be costly, so few if any insurers are doing it yet in detail or at scale, says Jacques van Niekerk, chief executive of Wunderman Data, a unit of WPP Group ."

"Some insurers are using social media in handling claims. Insurers can check explanations of auto claims against Facebook testimonials about an accident. And they could challenge disability claims if posted photos from a ski trip, for example, contradict an impairment or illness."  

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