Insurance Companies Are Monitoring Personal Telemetry

In a move that may inspire more healthy eating habits than any other inducement, John Hancock, the insurance conglomerate, has placed the discount gauntlet squarely at the feet of their life insurance customers with the issuance of their “Vitality” life insurance product.

As John Hancock explains, they turned to pairing technology, incentives and science to inform and reward customers to make healthy choices every day. They claim their internal data shows that those who adhere to the “Vitality” protocols will live 13-21 years longer and generate 30 percent lower hospitalization costs than the rest of the insured population.

When a company reaches into our pockets and either takes or places money into those pockets, it garners attention, especially to the owner of the pocket.

Going forward, John Hancock will be availing their “Vitality” application to their insured population, at no cost. For those who wish to receive the full benefits of the program there will be an additional fee, reduced premiums, and participants will be expected (though not mandated) to wear a FitBit or Apple Watch. Apple Watch purchase is at a discount and subsidized by the insurance company. The subsidy is calculated by the number of workouts completed by the insured.

What Your Braking History Says About You

The auto insurance sector had made the transition into this new territory long ago. Progressive, for example, offers their insured two avenues to savings via their “SnapShot” program. The insured either download a mobile app to their smart device or put a plug-in device into their vehicle.

Progressive then monitors acceleration, hard braking, logs trips, distance, times, time driving, time idling, time at highway speed, miles per gallon, average speed, etc. In exchange, those with fewer accelerations or fewer hard-braking events will pay less in premiums.

As NBC News points out, this type of data monitoring will also allow the companies to segregate their customers into more finally tuned groups, and perhaps even expelling customers who opt not to participate, or hiking premiums so high as to force them out.

Tandy Thomas, speaking to Canadian Broadcast Corporation noted, “We're at a pivotal point now where the technology is moving faster than our ability to fully think through the moral and ethical implications. There always needs to be a level of caution in thinking about how this is going to be used.” She also noted that, “It has huge potential for bringing about consumer good and societal wellbeing, but we need to make sure that it's actually what's happening and that it's not being distorted in a way that could lead to unintended negative eventualities."

The Real Price of Your Discount

Let’s all face it: these programs are intrusive.

Your personal telemetry is being monitored, and it is being analyzed, and it is being stored. The stated goal is to reward those who make healthy choices in the case of John Hancock and those who drive safely in the case of Progressive. But then there is the sharing of that information with third parties, which goes hand-in-hand with the ever-present risk of a future data breach. Not to mention the penalties unintentionally incurred for those who live in the countryside (or on steep hills and drive older vehicles) and brake for animals, as “hard braking” is counted against you.

It seems that these types of programs may well become the norm, and that this future is closer than any of us may wish it to appear. Telemedicine and fitness are two areas of epic growth, and a place where tremendous benefits can be made, but medical device security has been late to the party, and application security issues are daily fodder for the cybersecurity news cycle.

While discussion has been primarily focused on the privacy and financial aspects of the personal telemetry engagement, those in the cybersecurity sector should consider partnering with those manufacturing these devices and the software being used by the receiving entities to ensure that neither cybercriminals nor individual users may corrupt or falsify the transmitted and retained data or devices.

Furthermore, more transparency on the part of the insurance companies should be the norm. One should not have to dig into the small print to determine what personal information is and isn’t being retained, and all data which is being analyzed to the benefit or detriment of the insured should be clearly spelled out.