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IBM staffer posts pics on Facebook, loses benefits

A Canadian woman suffering from depression goes on holiday and puts some cheery photos on Facebook. Her insurance company withdraws her sick-leave benefits.

Insurance companies want us to be healthy. Really, they do. They have our interests at heart, and they defend those interests with an unusual zeal. This is why I am wondering which details might be missing from the tale of Natalie Blanchard.

According to the Associated Press, Blanchard, a 29-year-old IBM employee from Bromont, Quebec, was suffering from depression and took time away from work, relying on sick-leave benefits from her insurer, Manulife Financial.

The monthly payments were suddenly halted. When she called Manulife to ask why, she says she was told that it had espied photos on her Facebook page that showed her cheerful. Ergo, the argument allegedly went, she was able to work. Which led to the second ergo: no more payments.

The pictures, about which I am sure you are already wondering, were of her at a show featuring those tensing torsos, the Chippendales, as well as at a birthday party and on a beach holiday.

Depression is a nasty business. Cures are not exactly logical. And Blanchard says she went on three trips, each of a four-day duration, after consulting with her psychiatrist.

Manulife, while confirming (footage from Sky News embedded here) that it does use social-networking sites to, well, check up on its customers, also said, "We would not deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on Web sites such as Facebook."

Perhaps you, too, have some questions. What sort of a life is it when you spend your days trawling social-networking sites to sniff around your customers' personal existence? How is it that Manulife observed Blanchard's photos? Did she leave her Facebook page entirely open, or could it be that she had her insurance agent as one of her Facebook friends? Was she, indeed, already under suspicion before the Facebook trawling began?

December 8, this case will be heard in the Quebec Superior Court. Surely, we will learn a little more about Natalie Blanchard and a little more about Manulife. Perhaps Facebook could provide a live feed from the proceedings?