Skip links

US insurers use drone photos to deny home insurance policies

US insurance companies are reportedly relying on aerial photos from drones to deny claims.

Mega-insurers including State Farm and Allstate are dropping all but the safest properties, and aerial photography is the cheap and easy way to justify it, a WSJ report claims.

It would be a big task for just a single company to keep track of the 144 million homes that existed in America as of the 2022 census, which is why the Geospatial Insurance Consortium was founded. It boasts that the firm’s kit can provide “stunningly clear imagery” and can even provide “post-catastrophic imagery” for areas impacted by increasingly common natural disasters.

Unsurprisingly, artificial intelligence is a big part of GIC’s services. Although the biz doesn’t emphasize its usage of AI, it does brag about its partnership with Vexcel, which in turn brags about its AI-based analysis of aerial imagery.

Privacy is an obvious concern in respect to private drones canvassing the US and other countries, but so is the accuracy of these photographs. The WSJ cited the case of California resident Cindy Picos, who was dropped by her provider CSAA Insurance based on an aerial photograph that apparently indicated her roof was on its last legs. An independent, in-person inspection found that the roof would last for another 10 years, but CSAA Insurance didn’t change its mind.

Dropping insurance policies like it’s hot

Nichole Brinks, an insurance industry worker, said that her former employer Farmers Insurance used aerial photos to drop claims for almost any reason, even for things as minor as moss on the side of houses or tree branches hanging above roofs.

Perhaps even more concerning was that some photos were over two years old, leading Farmers to drop policies based on out of date info. Even in up-to-date photos, improper analysis (done by humans or AI) could lead to policies being dropped. In one case, Farmers mistook shadows for tree limbs, it’s reported.

In the pursuit of processing insurance applications and renewals on the cheap, insurance companies seem to be going for the worst of both worlds: inaccurate and invasive. While in-person inspections of homes aren’t perfect, they’re far more likely to result in accurate assessments. Not to mention the fact that they’re much more consensual than a drone that doesn’t need to ask anyone for permission.

We’ve asked State Farm and Farmers Insurance for comment about using aerial photography to ascertain insurance policies, though at the time of writing they have not responded.

However, if the goal of insurance companies is to drop as many customers as possible, then this method seems to be pretty good. Many states don’t allow insurance companies to deny coverage except for certain reasons, which is supposed to protect consumers. Failing to meet requirements like maintaining a roof is one of those reasons, and shoddy aerial photos can provide the grounds needed to drop customers.

It’s bad enough to have to pay a higher premium on an insurance policy, but not being able to get any at all is even worse. Thankfully, there’s a simple solution: just move somewhere that never experiences any natural disasters ever. ®