Shortly after I returned from IsoTech last November, I received one of those forwarded "chain" e-mails. Unlike most chain e-mails I receive, I actually read this one, and, surprisingly, it pertained to a controversial topic that came up at ISOTech during the roundtable session, titled "The Next 'Killer Technology' in Insurance."Panelist Kevin Kelly, managing director, U.S. insurance industry, Microsoft Corp., said he thought sensing technologies were the next killer technology, and he described how radio frequency identification devices could be attached to people or assets to enable the industry to obtain a plethora of information about who or what it's insuring. "There's a privacy element," he admitted. "But people will give up some privacy for convenience."

Elaborating on this theme, panelist Jamie Bisker, global insurance industry leader at IBM's Institute for Business Value, gave an example: An RFID chip could be embedded in a person's body to relay health information. If a person is predisposed to diabetes, for example, an insurer could offer that person a standard rate if the person agrees to participate in a disease-management program, which would include wearing the little chip under the skin. Bisker said he'd gladly do that to obtain a lower rate.

This brings me back to my e-mail. Subject line: Ordering a pizza. Beneath the short message from the sender that read "this is scary," was the following URL: http://www.adcritic.com/interactive/view.php?id=5927

I clicked and was transported to a Web site operated by the Ad Age Group. The site loads an ad produced for the American Civil Liberties Union. A fictional James Kelly is calling Pizza Palace to order a double-meat pizza. The order-taker's voice and computer screen appears. Her name is Mary, and Kelly's record pops on her screen with tabs that read, "employment history," "shopping," "voting record," "health," "general" and "order."

Mary welcomes Kelly by name and confirms his national identification number, his home address and his place of employment. She also knows he's calling from his cell phone.

Taken aback, Kelly says, "How do you know all this stuff?"

"We just got wired into the system," she says.

Kelly proceeds to order two double-meat pizzas, but Mary informs him it will cost him $20 extra because his medical records indicate he has high-blood pressure and extremely high cholesterol. He can order the double-meat pies, but only if he agrees to waive his health care provider's future claims of liability. "You can sign the form when we deliver the pizza," she says. Or, "you can save $48 by ordering the sprout submarine combo. It comes with free tofu sticks!"

Mary proceeds to cite other personal information about Kelly-his spending patterns (a trip to Hawaii), library selections ("Budget Beach Bum") and waist size (42 inches).

In the end, poor Kelly surrenders and orders the sprout sub combo for $19.99. "Good choice," says Mary. But "bring cash ... it looks like you've maxed out on all your credit cards."

Regardless of how this kind of technology might help insurers' profits and consumers' health, and regardless of how extreme the ACLU can be in its position on civil liberties, I agree with the person who sent me this e-mail: This is scary. What do you think?

therese.rutkowski@sourcemedia.com

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