Life insurers have traditionally relied on medical tests to get an estimate of a candidate's longevity—screening for things like drug use or high cholesterol. But they're experimenting with a much cheaper, and clandestine, method: gathering up the vast amount of information about people from the web via social networks, online shopping records, etc. "Whether people actually realize it or not, they are significantly increasing their personal transparency," an industry analyst tells the Wall Street Journal. "It's all public, and it's electronically mineable."
The new practice is possible because of the rise of online data-gathering companies that already do the work of compiling detailed profiles on Internet users, the Journal reports. Insurers like Aviva, AIG, and Prudential can buy the data for pennies of what it costs to administer medical tests. And maybe that subscription to a hang-gliding magazine will tell them more about clients than any urine test.