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Your Facebook status could increase your insurance premiums

By now you know that colleges, universities and potential employers scour the social networks before making admission or employment decisions. But I’ll be you never guessed that what you post on Facebook could affect your insurance premiums!

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Insurers have long used blood and urine tests to assess people’s health—a costly process. Today, however, data-gathering companies have such extensive files on most U.S. consumers—online shopping details, catalog purchases, magazine subscriptions, leisure activities and information from social-networking sites—that some insurers are exploring whether data can reveal nearly as much about a person as a lab analysis of their bodily fluids.”

The data, which come from many online sources, are being aggregated and analyzed in ways that can be used for “predictive modeling” of future behaviors—including your lifespan.

For example, the British insurance agency, Aviva, wanted to estimate a person’s risk for illnesses like high blood pressure and depression. Because those diseases are closely related to lifestyle, researchers created a model where premiums could be based upon information like exercise habits and fast-food diets. If the data show that you are more likely to be a runner than a couch potato, your premiums may be lower.

What you post online could be part of that data pull. Acxiom Corp., one of the biggest data firms, told the Wall Street Journal that it acquired a limited amount of “public” information from social-networking sites to help “our clients to identify active social-media users, their favorite networks, how socially active they are versus the norm, and on what kind of fan pages they participate.”  Acxiom takes in three billion pieces of information daily as “businesses seek to ‘monetize’ information about their customers.”  

I was particularly swayed by the warning from an analyst at Celent, an insurance consulting firm. “Whether people actually realize it or not, they are significantly increasing their personal transparency (by socializing online),” said Celent’s Mike Fitzgerald. “It’s all public, and it’s electronically mineable.”

So next time, instead of posting on Facebook that you are off for an evening of beer, chips, and a greasy burger, think about how that might affect your insurance premiums. Bragging about jogging to the local market for bananas, spinach and a little salmon might be the better approach.