Shoppers, Meet Your Scorekeeper

See the article in the NY Times at: Secret E-Scores Chart Consumers’ Buying Power

Let’s call this business what it really is: data theft, not scorekeeping. This great story by Natasha Singer is in the vein of the WSJ series: “What They Know”. There is no way to know if our e-scores, derived from 50,000+ pieces of personal information, are used only for shopping.

  • There is no proof that eBureau does what the CEO says. Unless eBureau reveals all the buyers of the scores or lets us see all the personal data they collect/steal about us there is no way to know if the scores are used to discriminate against us in key life opportunities.

Natasha Singer writes clearly about the business model of hidden data theft and hidden data mining that is used by so many Internet-based corporations.  She profiles Gordy Meyer, CEO of eBureau, who claims his company makes entirely legal use of millions of online and other personal, electronic clues.  He imagines we freely, consciously give personal data away to corporations like his to create instant, extremely detailed, deeply intimate real-life profiles of every one of us (which he sells at 3 to 75 cents/per profile).

When we simply LOOK or CLICK AROUND a website, we are not in any meaningful way giving consent to hidden data-thieving corporations to collect or use personal information. We are victims of unfair and deceptive trade practices and data theft.

The public simply has no concept that extremely detailed digital profiles are being collected used to discriminate against them:

  • Ebureau then adds several thousand details–like age, occupation, property value, length of residence, and retail history–from its data bases to each customer profile. From those raw data points, the system extrapolates up to 50,000 additional variables per person.”

What are the “several thousand details” eBureau adds?  Could they be details like your searches for information on treatment of melanoma? or STDS?  How do we know what the details are?  eBureau will not tell us.

The story closes with a quote from Frank Pasquale:

  • “I’m troubled by the idea that some people will essentially be seeing ads for subprime loans, vocational schools and payday loans,” Professor Pasquale says, “while others might be seeing ads for regular banks and colleges, and not know why.”

One of the worst parts of this story is that eBureau’s CEO makes assertions that cannot be verified:

  • there is no way to know what data is collected or what eBureau does with it
  • there is no way to know if eBureau “meets regulatory requirements” or “has put firewalls in place to separate data bases containing federally regulated data, , like credit or debt information used for purposes like risk management, from databases about consumers used to generate scores for marketing purposes.” because there is no outside auditing.

My bet is that a HUGE part of what is collected is information about our minds and bodies. We already know that personal health information is the most valuable digital information about each of us. Will purchasers of eBureau’s scores offer a credit card to anyone with cancer or Depression? Will we be able to qualify for loans to send our kids to college if we have genetic risks for breast cancer or heart disease?

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