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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Insurance company Direct Line in PR drive to trash open data crime maps?

Example crime map (Google/Tele Atlas/www.police.uk)
Why would insurance company Direct Line be developing a PR strategy that appears to be focussed on stimulating public opposition to police crime maps released under the open data initiative?

Many government data sets are valuable resources. Resources belonging to the public, therefore it's right that data should be released to the public under the government's open data initiative.

Additionally, allowing open access for companies to build new data services - services from which they may profit - is arguably the best way to drive research and innovation in how public data is used.

On Monday Direct Line issued a press release enitled Fear of Crime Maps Hits Reporting of Crime.  A reader of my blog, whom I've known of through professional circles for several years, wasn't convinced by the assertion that:
"More than 5.2 million (11 per cent) people have not reported a crime because they were scared it would drive away potential purchasers or renters when the incident appeared on an online police crime map"
So he asked Direct Line to release the text of the questions asked in the survey behind the press release. He got more than he bargained for, as what appears to be a brief to staff or agencies developing the PR strategy was included in the company's response:

"... we propose developing a compelling PR initiative that looks at how crimes and incidents aren't being reported because people do not wish to impact the appearance that they live in a nice area. There is an insurance link because without a crime number, secured by reporting an incident, people often cannot claim on their insurance. We would highlight that many people are invalidating claims because they do not have a crime number, or are covering the costs of repairs themselves, because they don't want to make their road appear a hot bed of crime on crime maps. Utilising consumer omnibus research we could highlight that XX minor crimes go unreported each year, because people do not wish to elevate crime figures for their neighbourhood. Highlight how many people would not report minor crimes for fear of making their property more difficult to sell in the future. We could support this with a radio day where we would work with an agency to identify specific crime hot spots in radio catchment areas, highlighting streets, which have the highest levels of reported crime. This local granularity will help us secure interviews with local radio stations that have specific targets for reporting 'local' news."
The wording and use of 'XX' notation indicates to me that this brief was written at least before the survey results were known, if not before the survey questions were drafted by describing the questions as "proposed".  And it's pretty clear that the company wanted to highlight a problem with crime maps before the results were available to show there was indeed a problem.

The wording of the survey questions gives respondents every opportunity to link crime maps to non-reporting of crimes by posing a conflated question, the first listed:
Please select from the following list any types of crime you have not reported to the police because you feared it would show up an online police crime map making it more difficult to rent / sell your property:
* Burglary
* Anti-social behaviour
* Robbery
* Vehicle crime
* Violent crime
* Other crime
* I have not been a victim of crime while in the vicinity of my current property
* I reported all crimes committed against me in the vicinity of my property or crimes against my property to the police
* Don't know
It's also not clear how an answer of "don't know" was treated in the survey results.  5.2 million unreported crimes seems an extraordinary high number to attribute to police crime maps - a resource I rarely hear anyone outside of open data and digital policy circles talk about.

The big question is as I posed at the start: why would an insurance company be rounding on a useful and valuable data set such as crime statistics? 

Is this just an attempt by a PR team to ride the publicity of recent government announcements about open data? Or could it be that the insurance industry views this type of data as a valuable resource, a resource which prior to the launch of this open data service only insurance companies had access to? 

Either way, I don't see it as a positive step to be highlighting a potential financial disadvantage of reporting crime.



  1. Could this sort of FUD encourage victims to not report crime due to perceived link with house prices, hence saving insurers money?

  2. Excellent blog! I definitely love how it’s easy on my eyes as well as the facts are well written. I am wondering how I might be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which need to do the trick! Have a nice day!


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