Data privacy is being spoken and legislated about, but the full implications of the question are not yet fully recognized.

Last week, I argued that insurers have to keep their eyes open and their wits sharp to see how companies in other industries are using data, think about how to apply those lessons in their own industry and create a culture of data innovation.

However, getting and using the data in smart ways isn’t all there is to the data revolution. The emerging question of data ownership is, I believe, going to play a massive role in determining how the chips fall (if you’ll permit me a gaming metaphor). Understanding the issues will be vital, especially as I believe that insurers may have an advantage in this area.

There are many facets to this issue. One is already becoming apparent. It’s evident on the way in which some auto manufacturers are staking a claim to the telematics data, while giants like Google and Apple are positioning their operating systems (and devices) to be the entry point for any data. The idea seems to be that whoever collects the data owns it.

It’s a battle that will broaden and become more complex as wearable technologies become ever more common. These devices will be generating ever greater amounts of highly sensitive physical/ health data about which individuals are likely to feel especially sensitive.

The same could be said for the data generated by the connected home.

I believe that the correct attitude for insurers to take—and one that will help to position them well—is that the data is owned by the person to whom it refers; that is, the client. In any event, I believe that will be the ultimate position in both legal and emotional terms. Wise insurers will find ways to convince clients that they are trustworthy custodians of their data, and will use it responsibly to improve the experience the customer is offered. They will also develop self-service tools to empower their customers to manage their data.

The Digital Insurer: Playing to win
Read the report.

We already know from the Accenture 2013 Consumer-Driven Innovation Survey that consumers are willing to provide personal data in return for service that is more personalized—as they already do for Google and Facebook.

The relationship between insurer and insured is traditionally deemed to be one of uberrima fides (highest trust). Is it too farfetched to speculate that insurers could articulate this concept to position themselves as custodians of customer data? Just a thought…

The sense that customers are becoming aware of the issue of data ownership, and are starting to want to take control of their own data, can be seen in the launch of several startups that aim to assist them. Reputation.com and Datacoup offer individuals a way to profit from their data, while Microsoft HealthVault focuses on providing a safe place to store health-related information.

In short, the battle lines for data ownership are being drawn. Insurers need to be acting now to make sure they are among the disruptors, and that will mean being seen as trusted data partners by their customers. Insurers who build customers’ confidence by providing them tools to manage their personal data are investing in “confidence capital” that will stand them in good stead in the future.

Next time, let’s consider the data supply chain.

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