Self-Surveillance and The Voluntary Surrender of Personal Data: Three Episodes from the History of Insurance

Caley Horan

This paper explores change over time in the ways American insurance companies gathered and used statistical data, with a special focus on the post-WWII era. Responding to increased competition and a growing market for private insurance, many insurers began refining the categories they used to classify risk in the postwar years. They also turned increasingly to new methods of data collection that emphasized the voluntary surrender of personal data and “self- surveillance” on the part of insurance consumers. These new strategies contributed to a larger change in the cultural meaning of insurance, which came to be seen as an incentivizing, responsibilizing system geared toward self-management and self-governance. Though early twentieth-century insurance surveillance efforts were often justified in the name of public service, by the end of the century surveillance had transformed into a means through which individuals to could ensure that they were “priced” accordingly and segregated into ideal distributions that reflected “fair” and accurate realities about personal risk.