Nov 27, 2012 1 min read

Privacy, identification and the need to know: who decides?

In this second of three posts about privacy and identification, I’ll look at how identification can also encompass how others build their own version of our identities. Many retailers, banks and insurers now have an identify of their own for you and are continually on the lookout for opportunities to add to it further. This is because the more they know about you, the more profitably they can market products and services to you. With ‘big data’ being seen as a significant competitive advantage, firms can sometimes be rather forthright in what they ask to know about us. This raises the question of the firm’s right to know versus our right to privacy.

Is there a limit to what a firm can ask from us? Can firms who need to feed ever increasing amounts of data into ever more sophisticated pricing models demand ever increasing levels of disclosure from us? It seems strange that in order for the firm to give us wider choice and more finely tuned pricing, we seem to have little choice but to complete their long list of on-line questions. Some may say that the market will help find that balance between what one side wants to know and what the other side is willing to disclose, but sectors like insurance doesn’t always come with a plethora of walk away opportunities.

Our identities can also acquire quite peculiar characteristics under seemingly quite innocent circumstances. For example, policyholders who walk away from a claim without pursuing it fully are now at risk of being classified as a probable fraudster, even though they only decided to do so after perhaps finding the excess too high or the repairs more easily managed by themselves. It is this danger of a somewhat warped version of our identities being secretly built up by the firms we do business with that seems to worry us the most.

So identification raises several ethical questions. They seem to add up to this: who decides who we are and who decides who gets to know about it.  I’ll look at such questions from the insurance perspective in my next post.

Duncan Minty
Duncan Minty
Duncan has been researching and writing about ethics in insurance for over 20 years. As a Chartered Insurance Practitioner, he combines market knowledge with a strong and independent radar on ethics.
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