Column: Risk Management

Google the Spy

By: | April 8, 2015 • 3 min read

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

I’ve known for a while that giants like Google tracked me — information on my location, my web activity, my music choices. I’ve known they troll my emails looking for keywords for targeting advertisements and services. Quite frankly, trolling goes beyond Google. Every store I shop at seems to send me emails luring me to a purchase. Nowadays, right or wrong, this type of tracking has become par for the course.

As creepy as it all is, data mining is supposed to be done under the guise of “innocent” consumer profiling that ultimately provides us with customized support.


On the whole, I love my Google-driven Android smartphone and the support features it offers — truly brilliant in many ways. The premise of using my information to “help” me didn’t use to bother me at all.

In fact, the thought of someone trying to design an algorithm that reflects my ever-changing consumption habits and interests actually made me chuckle.

So it all seemed acceptable because I thought my smartphone was only being used to spy on me. I was the only one involved. I was the one taking the risk.

Over the years, I have amassed a lot of business contacts. I have diligently kept their contact information via Microsoft Outlook. Recently, I uploaded that contact list to my smartphone using the Google Contacts app. I now have access to all of my contacts’ information when I am mobile.

But what happened next floored me. After a few days, likely after Google got a chance to chew on all this new delicious information, my phone started to regurgitate things back at me.

Spying on me is one thing, spying on my business colleagues and friends is another. The thought that I may have inadvertently put my colleagues at risk sickens me.

I received stock-ticker feeds of companies where my contacts work, and for companies with similar names to those where my contacts work. I also got travel suggestions based on my contacts’ addresses and news articles that referenced contact names, or those similar to my contacts. And I got solicitation emails from persons using names from my contact list.

I no longer feel as neutral about Google’s mining activities. Spying on me is one thing, spying on my business colleagues and friends is another. The thought that I may have inadvertently put my colleagues at risk sickens me.

Exploiting my business community without their express consent is just wrong, especially today where cyber security risks run rampant, where organizations spend billions protecting their networks and information, and where we are tirelessly putting in place safeguards around managing risks associated with remote access or unauthorized activity with client information. It is irresponsible.

Our collective goal should be to protect all of our clients, and keep their information safe and away from the risk of exploitation and misuse. The convenience of using applications like Google Contacts is to serve my clients better, not to breach their values. Google saw opportunity but handed me risk.


Since then, I have searched the bowels of Google’s account settings, looking for that elusive check box to disallow this silliness. After a few days’ search, there it was: “Use my Google contact information to suggest accounts from other sites.” Uncheck.

I have since written to Google regarding this experience and the irony in their auto-reply was almost amusing: “We value every piece of feedback we receive … we will use your comments as we strive to improve your Google experience.”

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]