In April of 2018, Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress about Facebook’s privacy practices the perceived data breach by Cambridge Analytica. As insurance professionals, we recognize that this was not a true data breach in the sense that no one hacked Facebook’s servers and subsequently stole individual information. Facebook users opted in to sharing information and sharing the information of their “friends.” It was evident through the course of questioning that this technicality, however, does not relieve the anxiety or unease that many feel about the new culture of information sharing. There is certainly a discussion to be had as to whether or not it is appropriate for an individual to be able to approve the sharing of someone else’s information. And Facebook has already changed their permission structure which indicates to me that they did have that conversation internally and landed on the obvious answer that it is inappropriate.

Another interesting conversation to be had is how the nature of privacy is changing and how valuable an individual’s personal information is financially. This is relevant to us as insurance professionals not only in understanding where businesses might be exposed to breaches or misuses of data but also in understanding if there is a shift in privacy expectations, how might that be useful to insurers?

Historically, we have thought about Personally Identifiable Information (PII) as ID numbers, account numbers, health/medical information, etc.  The value of this type of information is easy to recognize and even relatively simple to quantify financially. On the other hand, consider all of the information that we are all voluntarily sharing. Each of us has profiles that tell a story about who we are. When we wrote those stories, we probably intended them for the people we consider friends or at least acquaintances.

Those of us who grew up in an era before the sites were fully integrated into our lives may be questioning our comfort with sharing those stories now that the services for which we created them have grown and expanded the reach of those stories. Digital Migrants, typically understood to be Gen X and Baby Boomers, seem to be even more uneasy than semi-Digital Native Millennials, who are more uneasy still than true Digital Native Gen Zers. Growing up concurrently with Facebook, I was shocked to hear, during Zuckerberg’s April testimony,  members of Congress ask things like “Can you delete your profile?” “How do you make money?”

As I listened, I had two thoughts:

  1. This is an example of why there must be diversity of experience in decision makers within our companies. Our world is too complex for one type of individual to have a full understanding of everything that is happening, and the pace of change has never been faster. We must depend on our colleagues when their knowledge set is different from ours.
  2. My friends and I understand that Facebook uses our data, so do many other companies, like Apple, 23andme, Google, etc. While every implication of this use may not be understood, (and could likely stand to be more closely examined), we are each making the decision that the rewards or benefits we get through these services are enough to keep us sharing our data through them and with them.

Insurance companies have also thrived on the use of data-historically gained by questioning Insureds. Insureds understood that the benefit to sharing the data (through an application) was having protection in the event of a loss, and insurance companies used the, often detailed, information to understand exposure to risk, create terms of insuring, and rate appropriately. As we move away from applications that are pages long and instead get data from external sources, it is imperative that we make our products’ value more explicit and provide services that improve our Insureds’ day-to-day lives through use and analysis of their data, just as these tech giants have done.

About Carly Burnham

Carly Burnham began her insurance career in 2004 as an office assistant at an agency in her hometown of Duluth, MN. She got licensed as a producer while working at that agency and progressed to serve as an office manager. Working in the agency is how she fell in love with the industry. She saw firsthand the good that insurance consumers experienced by having the proper protection. When Carly moved to Des Moines in 2010, she decided to commit to the industry, and she completed her CPCU in one year finishing it in 2012 and attending commencement in New Orleans. She completed her MBA at Iowa State University in 2014. During this time, she and Tony founded a Gen Y Associate Resource Group at Nationwide in Des Moines. After they had both left Nationwide, Tony recruited Carly to co-author and manage She has the difficult task of keeping his constant flow of crazy ideas focused and helping to flesh them out into useful articles. Carly enjoys sharing knowledge and ideas about the future of the industry and finds the website a good outlet for this passion. Carly is involved in the the CPCU Society Underwriting Interest Group. She also writes "Next Wave" a monthly column in the "Perspectives" section of Best's Review.

1 thought on “Privacy”

  1. Great topic that more people need to be digging in on- I always assumed that the growing use of interconnected technology would just spur everyone to adopt best practices in terms of privacy and security. That… didn’t happen.

    Also worth noting that this Congress was especially ill-equipped to handle this moment in time, as they are still (I believe) the oldest Congress in history. I was surprised nobody brought their grandson along to help explain things.


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