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Innovative services based on biometric data on the rise

NEC Corp.'s service that analyzes people's behavior is seen in a store in Tokyo's Koto Ward, on March 8, 2018. (Mainichi)

New services that make use of "biometric data," such as people's physical characteristics and behavioral patterns, are spreading across fields including the insurance and retail sectors.

    By keeping track of biometric data with a mini terminal attached to one's body or a high-precision image sensor, it is expected that this will lead to more business opportunities, in areas such as health management, accident reduction and stronger sales strategies.

    This summer, Sumitomo Life Insurance Co. will team up with SoftBank Group Corp. with the intention of selling life insurance at discounted rates, based on policyholders' health information collected from wristwatch-like "wearable terminals." The devices can be synchronized with smartphone apps, in order to quantify records relating to activities such as a person's steps or exercise at a sports gym.

    The companies will also collaborate with an insurance firm in South Africa, which sells a similar type of insurance in the United States, Europe, and Asia -- with the aim of looking into the extent to which insurance premiums can be discounted based on factors such as mean life span in Japan and medical data. The South African firm offers discounts on annual insurance premiums of up to 30 percent, according to a five-grade evaluation scale.

    In March 2017, Sompo Risk Management and Health Care Inc. kicked off a health management service for drivers of vehicles such as buses, taxis and trucks. Data relating to driving records and drivers' heart rates is collected via wearable terminals and dashboard cameras, and information on daily health data such as blood pressure and sleep time is also accumulated. The system is designed to help detect physical abnormalities, and hence prevent accidents.

    Meanwhile, Tokio Marine and Nichido Life Insurance Co. has already started selling health insurance whereby a portion of the premiums can be refunded if holders walk an average of 8,000 steps per day, as measured by synchronizing a watch-like terminal that automatically counts steps with a smartphone app. The terminal is also able to measure burned calories and sleep quality, which is useful for monitoring one's own health management. Moreover, if policyholders work hard at improving their health, then insurance firms will benefit by having to dish out less in insurance payments.

    Meanwhile, in the distribution and retail industries, use of image analysis technology is progressing. For example, in March 2017, NEC Corp. started selling a service that visualizes shopper activity using store cameras such as those found in supermarkets and analyzes their behavior.

    The analysis is broken down according to factors such as gender and age of the shoppers, as well as their movements inside stores and length of time they stand in front of shelves. The information is color coded to match changes in the number of shoppers according to time of day, as well as length of time spent in front of shelves.

    In the past, analyses of purchasing records provided the main part of such services. However, by analyzing shopper behavior, it has become possible to gather data on customers who do not buy anything, which can help shops create more effective store layouts and sales campaigns. As individual faces are not recorded, such analysis is said not to violate the Act on the Protection of Personal Information.

    However, consumers are cautious about the use of personal information based on health information and camera images. In response to such concerns, NEC states that it intends to "explain information gathering and application in a respectful manner," and base use on a guidebook regarding utilization of camera images created by the private and public sectors, including organizations such as the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

    (Japanese original by Naoya Matsumoto, Business News Department)

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