by Michaela Whitton
United Kingdom — A new startup is selling details of the online activity log of your life, taking the screening of potential new housing tenants to a new level. Not dissimilar to China’s Sesame Credit — which incorporates online and offline data to generate people’s credit scores — a British company is selling dossiers on people’s social media profiles to everyone, from your landlord to potential employers.
All forms of homelessness continue to rise in the U.K. due to the housing shortage, ongoing effects of economic recession, and government policies. As if the world of private renting were not already beset by ofteninsurmountable hurdles, the British startup is now profiting from the misery and helping your potential landlord suss out prospective tenants by mining personal data.
Tenant Assured, the first product of U.K. startup, Source Assured, boasts “insightful referencing like never before.”For a bulk subscription fee, a landlord can use the service to profile would-be tenants. After the landlord’s request is sent, the prospective renter must grant the service full access to their Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram profiles.
From there, the process scrapes the individual’s site activity. It scans entire conversation threads and public posts to record information on the the renter’s personality. Eventually, a report is produced detailing, among other things, the individual’s “financial stress level.” Although the landlord doesn’t directly view the social media posts, the report includes information on “activity times” and whether the prospective tenant mentions words like “no money,” “being poor,” “staying in,” “terrorist,” “fraud,” and “justice.”
Writing for the Washington Post, Caitlin Dewey said her personal tenant report included a list of her closest friends and interests. At the same time, it produced a percentage breakdown of her personality traits and a list of every time she had tweeted the words “loan” and “pregnant.”
The Washington Post reports:
“Make no mistake: The data will mislead. Among the behaviors that count against your Tenant Assured ‘credit’ percentage — i.e., how confident the company is that you’ll pay rent — are ‘online retail social logins and frequency of social logins used for leisure activities.’ In other words, Tenant Assured draws conclusions about your creditworthiness based on things such as whether you post about shopping or going out on the weekends.”
Source Assured co-founder Steve Thornhill’s attempt to reassure people is as creepy as his product. “If you’re living a normal life then, frankly, you have nothing to worry about,” he said. Thornhill’s comments sound awfully like the argument of those who insist they don’t care if their privacy is violated because they have nothing to hide. This attitude — which completely disregards the right to privacy — has been decried by Edward Snowden time and time again. As he has said:
“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
It remains to be seen how many landlords will opt to pay for Tenant Assured, or whether the the majority will stick to stalking social media accounts of potential tenants in a more clandestine manner. By next month, Source Assured hopes to be offering specialized versions of the service to everyone, from employers to their H.R. departments. More worryingly, if what Thornhill says is true, the day is coming where people won’t hire a dog sitter or book an Airbnb without first viewing social media dossiers compiled by private companies like his.
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