Facebook blocks Admiral's profile-trawling plan

Car insurer had planned to use users' timeline posts to offer young drivers discounts on premiums

(Image credit: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

Facebook has blocked car insurer Admiral's plan to target new drivers by offering hefty discounts based on a trawl of their posts.

The company was to use social media "big data" on its new Firstcarquote app, says the BBC, using its findings to determine personality traits and set prices accordingly.

However, the launch of the app was "delayed at the last minute" and then pulled today after Facebook refused permission for it to view users' posts and likes.

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"Protecting the privacy of the people on Facebook is of utmost importance to us," said a spokesperson for the site. "We have clear guidelines that prevent information being obtained… to make decisions about eligibility."

Instead, Firstcarquote will eventually go live with "reduced functionality" - users will be able to log in via the social network site to complete a ten-part questionnaire, which will be used to determine potential discounts.

Under the original plan, the app's algorithm would have analysed the social media content of 17 to 21-year-old users without a driving history or no-claims bonus, looking for evidence that they were likely to be a safe driver.

"For example, an entry that invited friends to meet up and included a specific time and location suggested a more organised individual who might therefore be less of a risk," says the BBC.

Those deemed to be safer would have received up to 15 per cent discount on premiums – a tempting offer considering the AA says younger drivers pay at least £1,300 a year car insurance.

Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, said: "Social networks do not want you to feel inhibited. What should be relevant to financial companies is financial information."

He added: "Whether intentional or not, algorithms could perpetuate social biases that are based on race, gender, religion or sexuality."

An Admiral spokesman told The Times the company hopes "very soon we will be able to offer first-time drivers better deals on their car insurance", adding that the ten-part questionnaire will still be more efficient than the industry average of 50 questions.

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