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Banks spying on your bills, rent payments, paychecks: report

By Daniel Tencer
Saturday, November 6, 2010 22:25 EDT
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The age of the plain old credit score is gone, says a report at the Wall Street Journal, and it’s been replaced by ever more intrusive efforts by banks and credit agencies to gauge exactly what you’re worth, and what you can pay.

To that end, financial firms are now tracking their customers’ bank deposits, rent payments or home values, and even utility bills to figure out who may soon become a financial risk, reports WSJ‘s Karen Blumenthal.

So, for example, if your employer pays you through direct deposits and those deposits stop, financial institutions can now have warning that your money situation is likely to tighten, and may deny you credit on that basis.

But the efforts don’t end there. A new area of research, income estimation, “took off earlier this year,” WSJ reports, and involves financial firms collecting information about mortgages, personal loans and credit history to determine how much an individual makes and how much credit they should be given.

In this new era of deep data-mining, even your utility bills and rent check aren’t out of bounds.

An estimated 40 million consumers, including young people and people who prefer to pay in cash, have too little credit experience to generate a useful credit score. But they are likely to pay rent or utility bills, which could help credit bureaus better assess their credit-worthiness.

Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, bought RentBureau—which collects rental-payment data from large property managers—and expects to integrate that information into credit records before the end of the year.

Credit bureaus say they also would like to offer data on cellphone payments, but have run into concerns over privacy issues, which may require legislation to untangle.

BUSINESSES TARGET CELL PHONES, SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES

The WSJ report comes as new concerns emerge over the extent to which businesses are digging into the lives of their customers in order to assess risk or market products.

Raw Story reported this week on SocialMiner, a new software application from Cisco Systems that allows businesses to monitor social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The software has raised concerns over the prospect of employers spying on the personal lives of their employees.

“With more and more Web-based conversations taking place over these social platforms, it’s now more critical than ever that businesses are aware of what their customers are saying about them and are able to respond to general inquiries or rectify customer service issues so as to enhance and protect brand reputation,” Cisco stated in a press release.

Meanwhile, a federal class action lawsuit alleges that numerous media companies, including Fox News and CNN, received detailed personal information on millions of cellphone users from an advertising company that circumvented security measures on their phones. Courthouse News reports:

Delaware-based Ringleader “stamped” a “Unique Device Identifier” into customers’ cell phones, compatible with iPhone, iPad, iTouch and PDAs and other devices, the complaint states.

Once entered into their phones, the class claims, say the code sent their private information to a database that Ringleader shared with AccuWeather, CNN, ESPN, FOX News, Go2 Media, Merriam-Webster, Travel Channel, and WhitePages, all of them named as defendants.

“Essentially, defendants hacked the mobile phones of millions of consumers … by embedding a tracking code in each user’s mobile device database to circumvent users’ browser controls for managing web privacy and security,” the complaint states.

The class claims the database collected information about “gender, age, race, number of children, education level, geographic location, and household income.”

When they learned about the invasion of their privacy, some customers tried to delete the code, but it was programmed for “perpetual re-spawning, creating in effect: ‘Zombie Databases,’” the complaint states.

 
 
 
 
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