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Insurance game-changer: Rewards for private data

Life Insurance policy
RubAn Hidalgo | Getty Images

Would you let your life insurance company track your every move if it meant receiving a discount on your policy? One major U.S. insurer is betting you will.

In what could be a potential game-changer for the insurance industry, John Hancock, a division of ManuLife, is offering discounts and rewards to any consumer who agrees wear a Fitbit fitness monitor.

Essentially, the healthier you become, the more you save on premiums and greater reward points accumulated at partners including Amazon, Hyatt, and Whole Foods.

Of course, the trade-off is the life insurer now has the ability to track your every movement via fitness monitor.

Giving Out Private Data for Discount in Insurance

On Wednesday John Hancock president Michael Doughty told CNBC's "Power Lunch" since the insurance industry has a long history of receiving and safeguarding personal information,their customers' private data is secure

"As a life insurance company we are very used to collecting personal data from our underwriting customers, so the ongoing information that we are asking for is really a very small subset."

Alex Tabarrok, economics professor at George Mason University, doesn't think rewards for private data is such a bad trade-off. "This is the wave of the future. While privacy is one of the major concerns, the passing of many information asymmetries will lead easier trade, higher productivity, and better matches of people to jobs and to each other."

Julia Horwitz, consumer counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, calls John Hancock's move a dangerous precedent. "This grab for private information with monetized offers is taking advantage of unwitting consumer, she said. "It is nothing short of selection bias and a bribe to perhaps those in less fortunate circumstances."

incentives among life insurers is not a new concept. For instance, auto insurance giant Progressive offers customers an dashboard tracking device called Snapshot, to monitor driving behavior.Those deemed "good" drivers receive discounts on their premiums, while aggressive, "bad" drivers face rate hikes.

Driving OK with insurers monitoring them

Tabarrok believes the world of ubiquitous information is here to stay. "I'm not so worried about what an insurer collects from me. If you think about it, they just want me to get off the couch, hit the gym, get in shape, and get free stuff. So it's a win-win for me." .

It is also a win for the insurer, Doughty said John Hancock plans to make money from the program. "If we can get our customers, to live longer, healthier lives, we're making money."