Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Facebook is a false friend

P1010034Just because Facebook stopped Admiral Insurance from using its site to analyse your personality profile  doesn’t mean it wants to protect your privacy. 

If you believe that you probably believe that we are controlled by an alien master race (and I don’t mean those people in Silicon valley, or do I?). They just used the PR gaffe by Admiral to boost their own privacy credentials when the whole raison d’être behind Facebook is not to have any privacy. They’ve even experimented on you before in a mood manipulation experiment.

And even if you believe Facebook is not to blame (and of course you’re really the only one to blame, Facebook just makes it easy for you) there are lots of other data companies can use to make moral judgements and assess your risk factors. Your tweets, photos posted by your neighbours on Facebook, Google earth taking a walk round your neighbourhood, and your postcode itself.

Using algorithms they can categorise you and assess your creditworthiness. If you don’t have a credit history or have only just moved in and are not on the electoral register don’t worry, they’ll use your neighbours instead. If you live in an area where credit scoring is poor that may work against you as “banks take the view that birds of a feather flock together” according to Justin Basini, founder and CEO of ClearScore, a ratings agency.

Erik Kert, CEO of Big Data Scoring, puts a more positive spin on this data mining saying “scrutiny of online behaviour is a positive way to boost the financial prospects of people with a thin credit file“. Well not if you are a regular user of gambling sites or a shopaholic surely?

He says his company uses algorithms to predict your “expected probability of default” based on tens of thousands of data points gathered from the internet including social media, web pages you have visited, in fact anything you have made publicly available online.

This “big data” is made available to lenders in the absence of other credit history. Kert says it focuses on how active you are with your online profiles, what sort of activity you are involved in, how you access the internet, and what all that says about your personality. You don’t even need to use a psychologist – the computer decides! (Having said that Cambridge University has developed a tool “Apply magic sauce” to predict your personality based on your Facebook page).

A mortgage broker at Coreco conceded that postcode profiling was unfair if used but said actual methods of creditworthiness assessment are kept a close secret. However “if the information is readily available in the public domain, then lenders are bound to do additional research on people they are about to lend money to. Although nothing has been proven, I would suggest that those looking to apply for a mortgage should be careful. Gambling stories, wild nights out and lavish spending boasts should probably be avoided“.

Precisely! You can’t really blame them can you when you are prepared to put so much of your life on the internet little thinking it will come back to bite you. Your digital footprint never goes away as people have found when applying for jobs or going through a divorce.

Organisations like the Open Rights Group are concerned by these developments and believe society should think about the ethics involved. “Big data is often perceived as being able to deliver neutral decisions but algorithms and poor data can perpetuate social biases on race, gender, religion, or sexuality. There’s also the question of transparency. If we don’t know the full criteria being used how can we appeal against them?”

Young people or those on a low income shouldn’t be pushed into sharing their social media to secure discounts (one of the issues Admiral was criticised for). The right to keep things private shouldn’t be the preserve of those who can afford it

I agree with the last point wholeheartedly but perhaps if people weren’t so willing to be so transparent themselves and share every aspect of their lives, almost by the hour in some cases, they wouldn’t find themselves enmeshed in someone’s algorithm.

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