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Dossier: Digital life

Measured man: Is the importance of solidarity diminishing?

Smartphones and smartwatches make our lives easier, but what happens when more and more device manufacturers, app operators and service providers have access to increasing amounts of customer data? How should sensitive data be handled in the future? And how does this affect insurance?

Text: Andrea Gerfin, Isabelle Fretz; photo: Luke Chesser / Unsplash

Whether it’s shopping, eating, doing sport or chatting with friends, digitalisation is increasingly permeating all areas of life and fundamentally changing society. This is also having an impact on the health and insurance sectors, because the more data that’s available on our life and our bodies, the more this reveals about our state of health. When it comes to handling sensitive data, it’s not just the legal aspects that have to be taken into account, but also ethical considerations.

A framework has been drawn up for the insurance sector. In cooperation with stakeholders from business, science and society, the Sanitas Foundation has published a whitepaper highlighting how companies, government and consumers can assume digital responsibility in an insurance environment without compromising on innovative, forward-looking action.

Is solidarity under pressure from digital self-tracking?

When it comes to basic health insurance, everyone pays a per capita premium and is thus covered in the event that they ever need to have surgery or see the doctor frequently. Other people with few health problems help fund the system, in accordance with the principle of solidarity. But what happens if digital lifestyle and bodily data make it increasingly easy to compare people? Will health-conscious people still be willing to pay for those who knowingly jeopardise their health? And how will these developments affect private supplementary insurance? Will insurance solutions with behaviour-based or even individual premiums gain ever more traction?

Digital developments are raising many questions that need to be addressed by society as a whole. Companies, government and consumers have to work together to redefine the meaning of fairness and equal treatment in the digital age.

What responsibilities will insurance companies have?

Any company that uses and stores data must ensure transparency: how data is collected, what it’s used for, whether it’s passed on to third parties and how it can be deleted. By developing varied offerings, insurance companies can create choices – also with regard to the inclusion of personal data. Consumers should be able to decide what services they want to use and what data they are willing to share to do so. This corresponds to the ethical principles of autonomy and protection of personal privacy. 

What role does government play?

The government has to put in place a framework for companies and consumers to support the process of digital transformation while also preventing socially undesirable discrimination. It has a duty to supervise insurers, reviews new insurance and premium models, and checks the implementation of data protection guidelines. In the course of further digital developments, the government could demand, for example, that general terms of insurance or data protection guidelines be simplified and presented in a way that is easier for consumers to understand, for instance by using pictograms.