Your online life has become an important and valuable commodity. Your Facebook photos, your Twitter mentions, your Tumblr posts – these things are worth something to you and me. We’ve spent years curating these online representations of ourselves, and many of us use them to store and share content. Not only are these profiles valuable to us, it turns out that they’re also worth a lot to marketers, advertising agencies, brands.
Your social media accounts are a thing that you have ownership over, and now some think that, like other things you own, it needs an insurance policy. The argument: You insure your car, your home, your stuff – why not your Facebook profile?
U.K.-based information privacy company ALLOW recently started offering policies through Legal Insurance Management to protect your social media accounts for £3.99/month (about $6.50). “We could see that people were becoming increasingly worried about privacy,” head of PR for ALLOW Joe Wiggins tells me. “ALLOW set out to help people in the battle for their personal data. The social media insurance is just the latest development.” ALLOW also focuses on helping users analyze where and how their data is being used, as well as offers protections again identity theft. The natural extension of this appears to be specifically providing insurance policies for Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts, and so on.
According to Wiggins, in the event of a client needing to use the insurance, a member would call the provided claim line – run by Legal Insurance Management – and would be assigned a case worker. Once it’s been verified that the person is who they say they are and that they are the owner of the Facebook account in question, ALLOW gets Facebook to disable the account as quickly as possible.
“We also take steps to locate and remove potentially offensive material,” says Wiggins. “If it can’t be removed, then we bring in reverse SEO experts to begin the process of burying it.”
At the moment, this coverage through ALLOW isn’t available stateside (though Wiggins says the company is “just looking for the right partners” here). On one hand, it seems absurd to talk about insuring an intangible, digital representation of your identity, but on the other hand… is it all that crazy?
“Accounts are getting hacked all the time,” Wiggins points out. “Sometimes its mischievous, sometimes it can be very malicious. Online reputation is very important.” It’s true that hijacking social accounts has become a popular pastime: This week we all got a look at the underground market for the buying and selling of Twitter handles, and Mat Honan’s now infamous run-in with identity theft was fueled by social media. In a less serious twist, several major baseball teams had their Facebook accounts hacked back in August and fell victim to pranksters that mocked the teams’ players on their own pages.
Sometimes, it’s nothing more than the Internet’s version of prank calls, but other times mistakes can be made that have far greater consequences. “I definitely think that’s a great idea,” Chris Lang, who runs Email Delivery Jedi, an email reputation and spam filter service, says about social media insurance. “If you’re using your social accounts to make money and you have the money, you should certainly be paying for it.” Lang found his own Web business nearly buried when in 2006, he was incorrectly added to a security company’s block list, which kept him barred from a huge number of users’ Web browsers as well as barricaded from reaching inboxes. He knows all too well how important visibility is online, and part of his Email Delivery Jedi service is making sure that his customers’ domains are never blocked. Essentially, it’s blog and website insurance.
Lang reasons that if you’re using a social profile as a means of revenue – which plenty of Twitter users who act as 140 character, human billboards for products do – something like what ALLOW is offering makes far too much sense. “If you’re making $5k a week, you should be paying someone to monitor your account.”
The flip side of all this is that social media account insurance just sounds like a scam. “It sounds like a dishonest business,” says Millennial Branding founder Dan Schwabel. “I think that eventually, none of this is even going to matter because owning your profile will be so part of our culture.” As people become smarter and more aware of their personal, virtual brand, the less likely it is that we’re going to let them fall into someone else’s hands – including those of data brokers trying to buy your info. Schwabel brings up an interesting point, asking “The big question right now is who owns your social network profiles – the company or you?” Because while ALLOW might help you get your profile back from hackers, that particular policy has nothing to do with keeping your information out of third party companies’ hands. ALLOW does have opt-out and “remove my name” services, but the social media insurance shouldn’t be confused with these tools.
What should we be more scared about: Losing our carefully curated social profiles to hackers, or data brokers who want to hoard and profit off of them? Right now, it seems like a tossup. The one sticking point is that many of us are in danger of losing so much more than a profile in the event of being hacked. Plenty of people default to Facebook to store photos, and various profiles have personal information that could be used in order to get into other accounts – say your bank account or work email.
As the evolution of social networking continues as does our investment in it (both professional and personal), it seems logical to assume that users will pay for this type of coverage. But right now, the best protection to avoid losing all that falls to one place: You. You have to backup your photos somewhere else, and you should be making better passwords. Someday, social media insurance might be as common as car insurance, but until that happens it’s on humans to make sure our Internet selves belong to us.