Big Data in insurance: personalisation versus solidarity


The flood of new data has the potential to shake up the insurance sector. Together with reinsurer Swiss Re, researchers at the University of Zurich and the University of Applied Sciences HTW Chur are investigating the ethical and legal challenges presented by Big Data.

Portrait / project description (ongoing research project)

Specialists from the fields of ethics, management science, psychology, law and sociology are working together on this project with insurance actors. We are analysing which values play a role in Big Data applications and looking at how to handle conflicts of value and manage decision-making processes. We are also examining to what extent developers of Big Data applications take ethical aspects into account. Finally, we will compare the regulatory environment in Switzerland with that of the US and identify any gaps in legislation.


Risk calculations for insurance premiums are based on data. There has been huge growth in the range and volume of electronic data from sources such as tachographs and fitness trackers. This makes it possible to personalise insurance policies to a greater extent. But does it also undermine solidarity as a fundamental value of insurance? The use of non-insurance data is causing upheaval in the insurance sector and raising questions of data protection.


The present project consists of three stages that examine the ethical and legal questions posed by the use of Big Data in the insurance industry: First, we will establish whether moral values such as fairness, freedom, equality and the protection of personal rights are impacted by Big Data and to what extent the decision makers and developers behind Big Data applications factor in these values. Second, we will examine whether legislation and regulations are fit to address the challenges ahead and whether any adjustments – e.g. a weakening of the principle of data economy – can be ethically justified. Finally, we will propose a Big Data handling standard for the insurance sector.


The findings will allow policymakers and authorities to objectively address the Big Data challenges facing insurers. An industry standard could serve as a form of self-regulation to help the insurance community recognise ethically sensitive applications early on and either adapt them accordingly or opt not to develop them. The project’s bottom line is to pave the way for Big Data innovations which are both ethically justified and legally foreseeable.

Original title

Between Solidarity and Personalization – Dealing with Ethical and Legal Big Data Challenges in the Insurance Industry

Project leaders

  • PD Dr. Markus Christen, Institut für Biomedizinische Ethik und Medizingeschichte (IBME), Universität Zürich
  • Prof. Dr. Florent Thouvenin, Rechtswissenschaftliches Institut, Universität Zürich
  • Prof. Dr. Christian Hauser, Departement Entrepreneurial Management, Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft HTW Chur