I don't bleepin' believe it

From the Backspin "I don't believe it" department comes this week's top story: Insurers may raise your home insurance premiums if you use social networking.

Yep, according to Legal and General, one of the United Kingdom's biggest home insurers: "The insurance industry is aware that, with increasing acceptance of social media, the standard risk indicators may need to be reviewed. New risks and patterns in crime and claims are continually monitored to ensure the implications do not impact viable business models …. This social networking trend is clearly one that is making home insurers sit up and take note."

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The rationale behind the interest in social networking can be found in L&G's "Digital Criminal Report". This document, based on a survey of "more than 2,000 social media users," found that "38% of users of sites such as Facebook and Twitter have posted status updates detailing their holiday plans and ... 33% have posted status updates saying they are away for the weekend."

I exchanged e-mail with Darren Black, head of Household Insurances at Confused.com and the company that alerted me to the issue. Confused is a U.K. company that claims to be the first Web site for insurance price comparisons and Black pointed out that "social media is already being used by some insurers, albeit at claim stage. Loss adjusters and claims investigators are using sites such as Facebook and Twitter to help determine liability pay outs and to track fraudulent claims."

Black also pointed out that use of social media is obviously relevant to the insurance business (rather than just being creepy and intrusive as it appears) because "you just have to look at the stories about homes being abused after a party was advertised on Facebook to understand why." Black makes a good point. People in general aren't very careful about privacy and, as Twitter and Facebook definitively demonstrate, they just love talking about themselves.

So, when you announce in such a public way that you will be out of the house for a specific period, then if your location can be discovered, the bad guys, in nary more than a click or two, will have cased your demesne on Google Maps and Bing Maps (whose birds-eye view is excellent), and be ready to jack your stuff before you've finished posting what you ate for lunch. If the adjusters discover you have been that stupid, then yes, I'd find it hard to argue that whatever happens to your stuff isn't your own fault.

Of course, there are some serious issues to consider. First, how will insurers determine you are responsible for a particular Twitter or Facebook ID? Will insurers start demanding you reveal your social network aliases and then void your contract if you haven't been forthcoming?

Secondly, if your Twitter or Facebook updates aren't public and you invite, say, Bob to a party using one of these services and he forwards your invite to 100 other people who ultimately turn up and trash your place, are you at fault? In the real world, no, but online, who knows? It's not like the insurance company wouldn't be happy to find a reason to deny your claim.

We all appreciate the insurance companies are in business to make money but this blurring of the line between the real world and the online world is a slippery slope. This blurring will continue to grow in all sorts of industries and will probably have serious consequences … the least of which is that you'll keep saying, with monotonous regularity, "I don't bleepin' believe it".

Gibbs struggles with disbelief in Ventura, Calif. Your truthiness to backspin@gibbs.com.

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This story, "I don't bleepin' believe it" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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