Recently, I spent an hour dealing with one of the companies that provides credit score histories. I didn’t have a problem. I was trying to prevent one after the business was hacked. I’m not clear how these enterprises came into existence, or why they’re allowed to track my personal information. In the good old days, before computers, a lender checked my credit worthiness by contacting my landlord or a few neighbors. Today, algorithms make it easy for just about anyone to follow our electronic trail. But what may be convenient for business isn’t always a boon to the customer. And if the company is careless with personal data, it can create a nightmare.
Now days, the moment we get a social security number, we get a FIC0 score, a number that rates us as being trustworthy or untrustworthy consumers. To fall from grace is easy. Forget to make a mortgage payment and years or months can pass before a person can repair the oversight. Sometimes, we aren’t aware we’ve fallen from grace until we’ve been turned down for a loan. After that, adding insult to injury, we may have to pay for a report to discover why.
We’ve grown so used to this level of snooping, most of us have failed to consider where it can lead. In 2014, China began attaching a “social credit” to the credit score. That number weighs almost everything a citizen does electronically and can also be affected by the social credit numbers of friends. (“Are You a Number?” by Mara Hvistendahl, Wired, January 2018, pgs. 048-059.) The Chinese government justifies this Orwellian peeping. They want to make certain “bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.” (Ibid pg. 053) The government decides what’s good or bad and if a score drops low enough, an individual can be barred from buying so much as a bus ticket. Not kidding. And don’t expect friends to stick with the fallen. They don’t. They want to protect their scores. Worse, rank low enough and a public shaming is sure to follow. Call it China’s algorithmic form of crowd control.
Nothing like this could happen in the United States, right? It’s true, we citizens have grown so comfortable with government surveillance that when Congress renewed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, (FISA) hardly anyone squawked. (Click) But, are we ready for Facebook’s judgement? In 2012, the company “patented a method of credit assessment that could consider the credit scores of people in your social network.” (Ibid pg. 059.) Consider that Orwellian prospect the next time you click “accept” when stranger asks to be your friend.