Living with credit

Privacy is dead

Emily Crone

I’m a Newsweek subscriber, and last weekend I did some catching up on issues I hadn’t read. I found an article from last month that truly shocked me. Sure, I knew that privacy as a whole was diminishing due to the Internet. I just didn’t realize exactly how much information-gathering is now possible, nor how much room there was for misinterpretation of that information.


Newsweek writer Jessica Bennett wrote a piece called “What the Internet Knows About You,” which reveals that there are companies that aggregate information about you from all over the Web. This information can be used to determine whether a person is employable, eligible for health insurance or credit — and even to rate a person’s sex appeal.

Bennett had one such company, ReputationDefender, investigate her. The company found her Social Security number and other private data that they normally search for, but they took things a step further than they normally do to show Newsweek how much is possible, so they included information available on social media. They found out her body type, health status, intelligence, education history, maturity and financial habits and much more (for the detailed report, visit the article and click the red “view the full report” button.)

The scariest part is that it pulled in a lot of false information about her based on stories she wrote in the past, such as an article about polyamory (polygamy without the marriage contracts) and another about marijuana. Because her name was associated with those terms, the program assumed she was actually partook in those activities. Based on the amount of personal finance writing I have done, I’m sure a report like that would boldly conclude that I’m drowning in debt (even though I have none), and that I have a certain body type and recreational activities.

Bennett goes on to discuss how this type of technology could really be the credit score of the future. Besides including normal factors such as existing debt, credit score and income, this new type of report factors in “lifestyle & interests.” It found that she had a habit of shopping, wine and “extravagant vacation,” plus restaurant and nightlife associations. Tracking cookies are the main way consumers’ purchases are tracked, and much of this is happening without their knowledge.

Bennett explains the ramifications: “Let’s say you’ve been hitting up a burger joint twice a week, and you
happen to joke, in a post on Twitter, how all the meat must be wreaking
havoc on your cholesterol. Suddenly your health-insurance premiums go
up. Now imagine your job is listed on; your vacation
preferences linked to Orbitz. Think how this could affect your social
standing or your ability to negotiate a raise or apply for a loan.”

Do you think this type of personal investigation is going too far? Let me know what you think below.

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