(UR) United Kingdom — A new UK startup will “take a deep dive” into the intimate details of people’s private lives by essentially strip-mining data from their social media profiles — and then sell what’s unearthed to just about anybody willing to pay.
Score Assured, as the umbrella company, will offer a suite of services to those desiring a more personal insight into applicants’ lives across a number of different sectors. Tenant Assured, for instance — marketed to landlords — is already up and running. The next program to go live, Recruit Assured, will target employers.
“We’re trying to bring back a level of personal relationship to the digital world so the right judgement can be made for the right reason,” Score Assured co-founder Steve Thornhill told The Verge.
But many immediately spurned the idea when the story was first reported on by the Washington Post, and it’s not difficult to grasp why. Even setting aside the blatant violations of an individual’s basic right to privacy, some are finding fault with the indiscriminate methods these programs use to collate data.
For proprietors enrolled in Tenant Assured, for instance, would-be renters are required — assuming they first consent — to hand unfettered social media access over to potential landlords in the name of transparency with regard to economic status.
The program then dissects applicants’ online social media activity — including conversation threads and even private messaging — using language processing software and other analytics.
The frequency of keywords like “poor” and “staying in” and “no money” in online posts is noted, after which the Tenant Assured program sends landlords a “financial stress level” report — a purported measure of how likely would-be tenants will be able to pay their rent.
But clearly, given the mass data-mining methods of the program — and the varied and subjective contexts in which individuals use words and phrases — landlords will get a far more incisive peak into an applicant’s personal life. One that goes well beyond financial health.
This fact seems to be evidenced by the Tenant Assured program itself.
As reported by Tara Evans of the Telegraph, among the other data points on the final report sent to landlords is one that “aims to give insights into five main personality traits: extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.”
On that front — and perhaps as a reflection upon the Score Assured concept in general — founder Steve Thornhill gave an almost startlingly flippant response to the Washington Post:
“If you’re living a normal life then, frankly, you have nothing to worry about.”
For those who’ve been paying attention, Thornhill’s statement should sound eerily similar to that of lawmakers and officials in numerous countries when trying to defend mass surveillance programs.
In 2003, in fact, Britain’s own former Foreign Affairs Secretary, William Hague — in regard to mass surveillance — said in an interview:
“If you are a law abiding citizen of this country, going about your daily business and your personal life, you have nothing to fear.”
Thornhill claims his Tenant Assured program actually works to the benefit of applicants, as many younger or lower income people “don’t have credit scores — so how can they get a property when the answer from a traditional credit score is going to be no?”
He’s also quick to point out that would-be renters have to voluntarily consent to the program.
But as Kaveh Waddell points out for The Atlantic, refusal is hardly a realistic move:
“If a prospective tenant chooses to opt out of Tenant Assured, for example, he or she will likely not be considered alongside those who choose to participate.”
None of this seems particularly concerning to Thornhill, however, as indicated by his comments to the Post. From the closing line of that article:
“People will give up their privacy to get something they want.”