Tenants have already learned the lesson that their lives online have a big impact on their lives offline after The Telegraph reported that landlords had been using social media to assess the eligibility of potential tenants. But news from one of Britain’s top insurers indicates that now it’s not just tenants that need to worry what their digital DNA says about them; landlords may now find their online activities impacting on their ability to secure insurance or even a mortgage.
The social nightmare
Earlier this year, we reported that lettings agencies and landlords were vetting tenants by employing the services of companies like Tenants Assured who trawl through the online accounts of potential tenants, checking their activities on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and other sites, to build up a profile of their suitability as a tenant.
By monitoring the leisure activities potential tenants checked in to (whether they frequented pubs and bars or gyms and leisure centres) and screening for words like “wasted”, “hammered” or “drunk”, these companies compile reports about the type of personality, and tenant, candidates would be.
But with the news that one of this country’s leading insurers is set to employ similar tactics when it comes to rating risks, it seems that landlords could be in for the same treatment.
Motor insurer Admiral now plans to ask for access to first-time drivers’ Facebook profiles before it provides them with a quote in order to “share some information to secure a faster, simpler and discounted quote”.
Initially, the insurer had announced plans to use social media data to analyse driver personality and risk quota, with those judged to be safer online receiving discounted premiums. But discussions with Facebook revealed this to be against the site’s terms and conditions and the policy was scaled back.
What does it mean for landlords?
But the Facebook fine print or partial Admiral’s U-turn is just the beginning; landlords should now expect their online activities to have an impact on all kinds of insurance; from traditional landlords’ insurance to that of home and contents.
“Insurers have been recruiting data scientists and I think it is very likely they are already using information from social media websites to set premiums,” the managing director of 51zero, a software consultancy specialising in data gathering and analysis, Gary Frost, told The Guardian. “You can’t buy access to a private social media profile but insurers can potentially find out all the public information these sites store about you, such as who you are friends with, your public updates, public pages you have liked and posts you have publicly recommended or shared.”
And it won’t stop there: insurance is just the first of the big industries to turn digital detective – expect banks to follow and mortgages to be impacted. And in extreme circumstances, landlords, who’ve previously used social media to select tenants might find the tables turned on them – if their digital DNA doesn’t read well, tenants might not want to rent their properties.
Don’t be a digital dummy
Digital dummies, or even those just looking to refresh their online image, should adhere to the following guidelines to ensure that their social media footprint doesn’t mean they’re putting their foot in it:
Restrict your profile – and not just on Facebook. Unless you actively restrict your Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest pages, they can be accessed around the world. In addition to the bank, insurers and total strangers being able to view your profiles, your content isn’t copyrighted so can be copied and mass-produced.
Monitor your social media profile – While you can control your own posts and activities you can’t control those of your friends and associates – unless you check them regularly and delete and remove yourselves from statements or photographs that might have an adverse impact on you.
Minimise your check-ins – your friends don’t really need to know that you’ve checked in at the pub again, and neither do any would-be insurers or creditors.
Never use capitals – capitals are seen as the ‘shouting out loud’ of text and much of the software employed by agencies is designed to pick up on them. If you’ve got something to say, say it in lower case.
Consider your social media profile as a free resume – and use it as a force for good. Instead of taking the time to make sure any inappropriate activity doesn’t reflect badly on you, take the chance to promote actions that reflect well such as work for charity, links to articles about boosting productivity, spending wisely maximising time and potential. These kinds of posts will help you get ahead offline as well as on.