Facebook says that it will block a British car insurer from profiling users of the social network to decide whether they deserve a discount on their insurance.
Admiral’s controversial Firstcarquote initiative is aimed at people who are buying or driving their first car. The company’s website says that new drivers are often quoted much higher insurance premiums as they have little driving history and are viewed as “high risk.”
“But we want to help make sure safe drivers aren't penalised and get the best price possible,” it adds. “To do this, we'll look at your Facebook profile to help us get a better understanding of the type of driver you are.”
The offering, which has not yet been introduced, would harness an algorithm to scan six months of users’ Facebook data. The Guardian reports that the algorithm will search for indications that users are overconfident – such as the use of exclamation marks and frequent use of “always” and “never” rather than “maybe.” Writing in short, concrete, sentences and compiling lists could indicate a well-organized person, the report adds.
Admiral says that it will only have access to a “static snapshot” of users’ social data, and adds that the information, which will be stored securely using Amazon Web Services, will not be shared with third parties.
Facebook, however, says that it will not allow Admiral to scan users’ data to decide whether they are eligible for discounted car insurance. "Protecting the privacy of the people on Facebook is of utmost importance to us," it explained, in a statement emailed to FoxNews.com. "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," the company added. "Our understanding is that Admiral will then ask users who sign up to answer questions which will be used to assess their eligibility."
The move was welcomed by U.K.-based privacy advocate the Open Rights Group. “There are significant risks in allowing the financial or insurance industry to base assessments on our social media activity,” said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, in a blog post Tuesday, in a blog post Tuesday. “We might be penalised for our posts or denied benefits and discounts because we don’t share enough or have interests that mark us out as different and somehow unreliable.”
Open Rights Group has argued that Firstcarquote is in breach of Facebook’s Platform Policy section 3.15, which states that data obtained from Facebook must to be used “to make decisions about eligibility, including whether to approve or reject an application or how much interest to charge on a loan.”
“We were really hoping to have our sparkling new product ready for you, but there's a hitch: we still have to sort a few final details," said Admiral, in a statement on its website, according to Sky News.
Admiral has not yet responded to a request for comment on this story from FoxNews.com.
With more than 1.7 billion monthly active users, Facebook’s role in society continues to be closely scrutinized. On Monday, for example, civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter signed a letter to the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg urging him to clarify Facebook’s policy on content removal.
In an era of growing cyber threats, privacy and data protection continue to be key concerns for Facebook users, who can access extra layers of security via the social network’s settings.
Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers