Could selfies be your passport to healthier insurance? | Zurich Australia

Social media is awash with selfies. They have – quite literally – become the face of a generation, with “Selfie” even being named the ‘word of 2013’ by the Oxford English dictionary. 

Up to this point, selfies have just become part of our modern culture that we all engage in without any real thought, because, well, everyone else is. But what if they could do so much more? What if they were about to become one of the most powerful predictors of your future health and wealth?

This is no longer the realm of science fiction. Thanks to a new program called ‘Chronos’, your facial lines and contours, droops and dark spots could indicate how well you're aging, and, when paired with other data, could someday help underwriters qualify people for valuable life insurance.

Your face tells your own unique story

Two people of the same chronological age rarely experience the same rate of biological ageing. You know this intuitively just by attending your high school reunion.

Chronos claims that by analysing an image of someone’s face (aka a selfie) they can return the most precise, reliable and individualised lifespan estimates attainable. This is achieved by measuring their rate of biological ageing – rather than simply how old they are – through facial analytics, which is what accounts for individual differences.

For example, it remains a fact that some people smoke and live to be 100 while some non-smokers die of lung cancer at an early age. With facial recognition technology, it is now possible to identify smokers who are likely to live longer.

How would it work?

Chronos combines three aspects:

A customer would upload a selfie to an online database and answer industry standard questions around health, lifestyle and other decision factors.

The facial analytics technology would scan hundreds of points on their face and extract certain information, including body mass index, physiological age (i.e. how old you look) and whether they're aging faster or slower than your actual age.

According to reports, the program can detect makeup, but not plastic surgery, and verifies a customer’s identity by comparing the photo to the one on their driver's license or other form of government-issued ID.

The pros and cons

While this technology is still subject to regulatory approval and will likely not be available for use for many years to some, the potential benefits are already becoming apparent.

For the life insurance customers of the future, facial recognition may be able to be used to minimise the number of medical tests required, while still keeping underwriting accurate, and could also potentially reduce the waiting time on a typical application and provide much more tailored policies and premiums.

On the other side, what happens when someone thinks they're healthy but facial analysis tells a different story? And of course from a privacy perspective, what about those people who may not be comfortable providing such photos? (Interestingly this doesn’t seem to be an issue for the younger generations these days, who seem far more comfortable sharing personal data online).

Another crucial factor in the uptake of this technology is its validity. Does this really work in 100% of cases? Inaccurate predictions of health are no good for either the customer or the insurer, so rigorous testing and time will stand to tell which new approaches prove effective.

In other words, it could be some time before you can rely on such an approach.