Selfies and Savings: How Social Media Posts May Impact Your Finances

Somebody has probably told you to be careful about the selfies you post online. Maybe they warned you that posting pictures of yourself partying hard will come back to haunt you in your professional or personal life, or some other assumption based on another human being looking at your photos and making judgments about your character.

But what if computers could look at your photos and use scientific data analysis to create a profile of you—a profile that could decide how much you have to pay for services like life or health insurance?

Facial recognition technology is on the rise lately, and if you’ve bought a new smartphone in the last few months, there’s a good chance you can unlock it just by looking at it—the phone’s camera scans your face and is able to recognize you. This technology can also be used by security companies and law enforcement to identify people caught on surveillance footage.

Now that cameras can recognize you, the next step is analysis. The software that scans your face to identify you can also use the details of your physical features to make determinations and predictions about your age, health, lifestyle, and more. Insurance companies are already taking steps to use facial scanning software to calculate premiums for life insurance.

This scary fact opens the door for a variety of decisions to be made, many of which impact your financial future, and all based on simple—and seemingly harmless—selfies.

Your Face is a Treasure Trove of Data

Facial analysis technology is being floated as a way to predict your life expectancy and set appropriate rates for life insurance coverage. Lines on your face, age spots, bags under your eyes, and other facial features can be analyzed to find early signs of disease, tell whether or not you’re a cigarette smoker, track weight gain, and more.

Developed by a North Carolina company called Lapetus Solutions Inc., Chronos is a software program designed to “read” these facial features and generate life expectancy predictions, which insurance companies can then use to make approval decisions and set premium rates. Several insurance companies are currently testing Chronos as a way to evaluate and approve life insurance applications instantly, without making applicants wait weeks to find out if they’re approved.

One way this software works is by calculating a “physiological age”—based on your facial data—and comparing it to your actual age, essentially determining if you’re aging faster or slower than normal by deciding if you look older than you actually are.

Chronos could potentially make life insurance easier and cheaper for insurance companies to sell. Sales of life insurance policies have been on the decline in recent years, and the lengthy approval process is believed to be a contributing factor. After all, online shoppers aren’t used to waiting a month or more to complete a purchase.

The Future of Face Scanning Technology

The proposed use of this technology for insurance-buying purposes is voluntary; it’s offered as an optional incentive for consumers. The benefit you get for providing your selfie for analysis is immediate approval of your application, without having to get an actual medical exam.

However, it is entirely possible that one day this technology could be used with the public photos you post on social media. Employers and colleges already use information from social media to make decisions when it comes to hiring and admissions. Offensive language, displaying weapons, and other questionable behavior on social media can have a big influence on how recruiters and admission officers view a prospective candidate.

It’s not hard to imagine a future in which facial scanning and other data-driven analytics might be applied to social media photographs in ways that may or may not be disclosed by the company utilizing them (just look at how much Facebook has already been doing with our data behind our backs).

Our likes and follows are already fed into complex algorithms that determine the ads we see and the type of content that gets pushed to us. When technology reaches the point where it can accurately predict things about us based on the information we feed into social media, we can expect companies to capitalize on that wherever they can.

Is Your Selfie Game Actuarially Strong?

So, what does this mean for young people beginning to think about how the traces of their “social media selves” might affect their future? Is it no longer enough to make sure your Instagram and Snapchat photos are funny or flattering? Do you now have to worry about posting photos that make it look like you’ve got a long life expectancy?

At this point, the planned uses of this software may be opt-in only, but if facial analysis technology means there’s money to be saved or more sales to be made, it’s a sure bet that companies will find more ways to take advantage of it. While we might not have reached the point where you need to stop taking silly selfies in order to keep your future insurance rates down, it’s always good to remember that everything you put on the internet can potentially be used to get information about you—often in ways you wouldn’t expect.