Insurers Test Personal Data Files to Identify Risky Applicants

Life insurers are testing an intensely personal new use for the vast dossiers of data being amassed about Americans: predicting people’s longevity. The article “Insurers Test Data Profiles to Identify Risky Clients”, by The Wall Street Journal reveals a remarkable proliferation of the use of consumer-marketing data to create a “predictive modeling” system for insurance applicants.

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.

Making the approach feasible is a trove of new information being assembled by giant data-collection firms. These companies sort details of online and offline purchases to help categorize people as runners or hikers, dieters or couch potatoes. They scoop up public records such as hunting permits, boat registrations and property transfers. They run surveys designed to coax people to describe their lifestyles and health conditions.

Increasingly, some gather online information, including from social-networking sites. Acxiom Corp., one of the biggest data firms, says it acquires a limited amount of “public” information from social-networking sites, helping “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.”

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