The BigBrotherAward 2016 in the category “consumer protection” goes to
The Generali insurance company, represented by its chairman of the board, Giovanni Liverani,
because the company promises bonuses to the insured, if they in turn agree to be put under surveillance.
When I was working on the speech for this awardee I thought to myself, this sentence is really all that needs to be said:
“The BigBrotherAward 2016 in the category ‘consumer protection’ goes to the Generali insurance company, represented by its chairman of the board, Giovanni Liverani, because his company promises bonuses to the insured, if they in turn agree to be put under surveillance.”
Congratulations. Next candidate, please … Mr. Liebold, your turn again …
But wait! It’s not that easy.
In 2007, we already awarded a prize to a company that was planning to introduce so-called “pay-as-you-drive” premiums onto the market. Do you remember? You would have a kind of “black box” in your car, telling tales about your driving style to the insurance company, but if you drive very considerately and observe all speed limits, your premiums will go down. Back then, people were shaking their heads at the idea, but now, 10 years later, it is here, targeting novice drivers in particular.
Extending the idea to health insurance would mean: analyse data from fitness wristbands, and permanently keep the customers on a very short leash. Whoever gets enough, but not excessive exercise, does sports without overdoing it, whoever has a good heart (in a mechanical, not an emotional sense), whose pulse is regular and whose blood pressure is in the perfect range “of mediocrity”, will get a cheaper insurance. Period. We will put you and your bodily functions under surveillance – and you will pay less. Period. Questions? None. Period. We read about ideas like these every day. The “Techniker Krankenkasse” (technicians’ health insurance company) (who have been jokingly called “Krakenkasse” – German pun meaning “Leech Insurance”) has recently been making the news with them.
But it’s not quite that easy.
Our awardee, Generali, does not yet care about driving (they leave that to their competitors for the time being) but about health insurance – in particular about occupational disability coverage and life insurance. And it is not about making the insurance cheaper.
Because here is how insurance works: Everybody pays, so that those in need can get something out of it. Generali knows this. That is why there are no lower premiums for surrendering your data about blood pressure, pulse, etc., but … points.
Data from my fitness bracelet is thus not queried directly, but I’m asked to use an app which awards me with points for being good and completing my training in a licensed fitness centre. We will recall that we have shown in 2000 with the Payback awardee that the sole purpose of credit-point schemes like this is to bind and control one’s customers.
You cannot get cheaper insurance with Generali points. Instead, you can get discounts for your points in shops which have signed up for the Generali programme. But, of course, only if you buy especially healthy products. Something which has “organic” in its label. And you have to buy it exclusively in certain – few – brand shops. This will probably not include cucumbers or strawberries from your local street market.
Asterix aficionados will probably think of Unhygienix, the fishmonger. He always gets his merchandise, which usually has a slightly pungent scent, from far, far away, from Lutece, instead of catching the fish in the sea, which is very close to the village: “I will not sell fish coming directly out of the water without any guarantee of quality!”
So we are supposed to surrender our most sensitive health data to a company, in order to buy things from other, affiliated companies later. And who exactly gets the data?
Here is what Generali says in a press release:
The media have incorrectly reported that a “Vitality Fitness App” is putting customers under surveillance. But customers do not need to worry at all: the “Vitality” programme and the insurance product proper are legally and administratively separated. The only information received by the insurer is the customer’s status level. Moreover, it is the customer’s own decision whether or not to participate in the “Vitality” programme and which pieces of data they want transferred within the programme.
So who gets the data? Generali does not say clearly, but only states ‘Don’t worry, we do not get your data.’ Well, that’s reassuring … But we know that data, wherever it is, is never left to rot. It will normally be used for some purpose.
Other points to be investigated: For the “Vitality” programme Generali has teamed up with a South African financial company, which came up with a programme called “Discovery”. This is where the data is collected, coming from the fitness centres where people are sweating to collect a few points. We have little information about South African data protection and security laws. But we do know at least that there is no data protection agreement between Germany and South Africa. Does that mean that this data transfer is legal? Well Idoubt it.
The technical term for what is done to the insured in this case is “gamification”. There may be applications where gamification makes some sense. But here everything becomes a game, even the alleged health training. Another silly and obscure point system – in this case not just for surrendering just personal, but most intimate data. And moreover, quasi-compulsory: whoever wants to be motivated to live a healthier lifestyle, and also believes that money can be saved, is almost forced to take part. Who is rich enough – or has the confidence – to resist the siren song of this supposed bargain?
According to a study of the market research company YouGov, one in three people in Germany would sign up for this. Because you can save money! Unless you think about it, at least. And thus you enter the treadmill of self-quantification, self-renunciation and the money-saving craze. With fatal side-effects: surveillance pressure and loss of solidarity.
We consider this a disastrous development.
To reiterate, because apparently it cannot be repeated often enough: Everyone pays their dues in an insurance, including those blessed with rugged health. This in turn pays for all people who are not so lucky to have eternal health – or who were involved in an accident. This is what insurance is about. This is solidarity.
We all suffer, the entire society, if more and more people strive to seek their own apparent advantage by allowing themselves to get engaged in useless stuff. It is disastrous, if more and more people say goodbye to a society based on empathy and solidarity and are only interested in their own advantage and personal gain. Obviously it is a good idea to motivate people occasionally to overcome their inertia and not take the car to drive the one hundred paces to the nearest cigarette machine. So it is fine when the insurance sends me their biannual magazine and lets me decide which appeals I will heed, and which I choose to ignore.
My dignity is inviolable – sometimes I wish that at least the most elementary articles of our constitution could be applied directly to insurance companies and other enterprises. Paternalistic encroachment on people, i.e. treating them like immature little children may eventually lead to them behaving like little children. It is outright malicious to make them believe they actively shape their life and their health – and do so by giving up control to a customer loyalty system, which will use the additional money the customers spend to line other pockets tied to this company.
We must detect and expose gamified offers such as this. We must resist them. We must ostracise them. Because this nonsense puts our social peace at risk. And it puts at risk the inner peace of everyone engaging in this daily act of self-quantification.
In this spirit: congratulations on the BigBrotherAward 2016, Generali Insurance company.
 Originally founded in Italy Generali is the second largest primary insurer in Germany with a revenue of around €16.8bn and more than 13.5m customers. The German subsidiary of Generali includes Generali insurances, AachenMünchener, CosmosDirekt, Central health insurance, Advocard legal insurance, Deutsche Bausparkasse Badenia and Dialog life insurance. It has also subsumed the insurance formerly known as “Volksfürsorge” (literally people’s welfare).