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U.S. tech companies are building a Chinese-style social credit system (fastcompany.com)
127 points by neuro 54 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 128 comments



Your FICO score and detailed credit history already serve this purpose to a large degree. Everyone knows that affects whether or not you can get a loan (and thus purchase a car or home), and on the surface that seems fair enough, but is already fairly discriminatory. But it's far worse than that; if you have a bad credit score, you can't even rent an apartment. And many employers won't hire you. It's not just used to calculate what interest rate you get charged; it's used to judge your value as a human being in general.


I think there's a large gap between your credit history and the comments you make online. Or the comments your friends make online.

Pretty much nothing that impacts our rights impacts our credit scores. For example, freedom of speech, press, religion, gun ownership and much more do not impact your credit score.

FICO certainly correlates with some factors you may not want to be included but it seems like a pretty reasonable compromise. If I sublease my apartment to someone, shouldn't I be able to know if they actually pay their debts?

There are lots of problems around the implementation and privacy with FICO but these seem more logistical and implementation than a broken idea in general.

The Chinese social credit seems broken in general. Allowing US companies to check your instagram also feels broken but it's complicated. If you lie to an insurance company and then post that lie online (ie the adventurous sports example from the article), maybe you should face consequences.

A difficult situation is when tech monopolies ban you from using their service. For example, I believe every American should have the right to hear/read every public announcement made by the President. If you get banned from twitter, you may have your rights violated somewhat.


My main gripe about FICO is that they are not transparent about the methodology and the ways in which you could appeal a decision are murky at best and are difficult and take months to fix in many cases. I prefer full transparency as to what the rules are and the algorithms used for the purposes of credit so we as a society can decide rather than private businesses deciding for us what our social credit and other forms of credit is. Why shouldn't I be allowed to improve my credit and why shouldn't that process be completely transparent?


Although I hate Experian on several levels, does this page not address your calculation issues?

https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/infographic-what...

If you want actual points, here’s a great graphic that shows the point values of many different attributes:

https://www.doughroller.net/credit/a-rare-glimpse-inside-the...


I was just shown a compulsory tracking app on a large US multinational's issued cell phone that records and reports detailed usage, location, and driving behaviors, then rates them with a score that just happens to top out around 850.

If you go out of bounds in any category too often, you lose access to company resources and could lose bonuses and other incentives until a retraining course is completed.

When I drew parallels between China's social credit score and their employer's practices, they failed to see the relation because they "always made sure to maintain a good score" so it wasn't a bad thing.


> I was just shown a compulsory tracking app on a large US multinational's issued cell phone that records and reports detailed usage, location, and driving behaviors, then rates them with a score that just happens to top out around 850.

You bring up another tangentially-related point here that represents a form of social scoring: tracking driving. I just got Progressive insurance on my car. They would have knocked about 10% off the rate if I'd agreed to install their app to track my driving. That's a behavioral scoring system.

It's easy to rationalize this by saying that good drivers should pay less than bad drivers, and that it's therefore within their purview. But they're not simply getting a score on how well I drive; they're tracking my every movement 24/7, whether I'm driving or not, with detailed location data.

Right now these systems are voluntary, but it's only a matter of time before we won't even be able to get car insurance without participating in tracking. It's all the same fundamental thing: quantifying our social value.


Can you share the source?


So it’s almost like you’re saying it’s too coarse?

Before FICO you either had to have lots of cash or you had to have people both of you knew vouch for you. FICO enables people to get credit with less hassle than the traditional pre-FICO method.

I’d prefer FICO over s system which tries to manage my daily behavior and may publicly shame me for small transgressions.

With that said, I hope we don’t allow a Chinese style social scoring system and I hope we see push back against this even if it’s not government mandated but a “voluntary choice” with a private entity.


My gripe isn't with credit history being used in the issuance of credit; that makes sense, and has made it a lot easier to borrow money. It also removes the discrimination that existed when bankers would simply refuse to extend credit to minorities.

My point, as it relates to the article, is that what started out as a means of gauging financial creditworthiness is increasingly used as a means to gauge your worth in other aspects of life.


The FICO system isn't technically government-mandated, but it might as well be. If you try to get a security clearance, for instance, your FICO score/credit history is easily the #1 thing they look at.


There's also a ChexSystem that banks use to block people from opening accounts, which is like basically blocking someone from even being able to get started doing anything financially since so much of it is digital now.


FICO scores are definitely worth comparing to this new emerging system, but there are key differences. The input data to FICO scores is broadly public (but not the exact weighting), and they only relate to financial and credit history. They are also regulated by the FCRA, making it so people can see the data that is being held about them and requiring negative information to be removed after a certain amount of time. People can and do receive damages from credit agencies and creditors if they don't correct erroneous information or violate other parts of the law.

It's regrettable that they're are used for things like employment, but on the other hand, you won't be prohibited from using a taxi (Uber), hotel (Airbnb), entering a restaurant (PatronScan), or using a phone or the mail (WhatsApp) because of your FICO score.

Nobody knows what data goes into the reputation systems of tech companies, where it's collected, or who it's shared with. You usually can't look at it. You usually have no recourse as there is no regulatory oversight and no contract to use their services besides "we can kick you off at any time for any reason or no reason at all".


To be honest, I haven't encountered any issues yet and I have quite literally no credit score. Never used a credit card and my history is entirely blank if anyone tries to run a check on me.

I've been lucky enough to never have to participate in a system that I view as being incredibly exploitative. I hope to keep it that way and honestly, I'd like to see further efforts towards curbing the credit score system. It's draconian, a bit orwellian and punishing to the poor and/or unlucky.


>if you have a bad credit score, you can't even rent an apartment. And many employers won't hire you.

I think it's worth noting that you can't rent what the kind of people who care about their FICO score think is a good apartment and employers the kind of people who care about their FICO score want to work for won't hire you. You can still get an apartment, job, etc just fine so long as you're not in bankruptcy.

There's a pretty big chunk of society where basically everyone either has shit credit and/or doesn't use credit. It's just not a chunk of society the chunk that knows their credit comes into much contact with. Those people mostly get along just fine. Access to credit is not a significant thorn in their side.


Oh yeah, a caste system, that's lovely.

I know you don't mean that, but it sure smells like it.


My point is that not everybody lives in upper middle class existence where you need good credit for everything. There's plenty of people out there who will never buy anything other than a house on credit and who never do any of the things you're supposed to do to have a good credit score.


Until, for some reason, one of them wants to, but he can't, he's stuck in his current situation, and that's called "reduced social mobility".


It's used as a metric for the probably that someone will repay their debts; a metric used by those who are making financial decisions based on whether or not someone will do that.


I have bad credit. The only time it is a problem is when renting cars,but even then they allow it after a ridiculous deposit.

This is a VERY good reason why cash or cash-like transactions are good. With China they enforced their crazy system using wepay where even street beggars now have to accept payment that way.


> Your FICO score and detailed credit history already serve this purpose to a large degree.

a) what purpose is that?

b) FICO score doesn't include political outlook or social behaviors. (see also 'a')


FICO score isn't used for employment and I doubt it is used from renting. Employment based credit pulls gives employers a stripped down credit history allowing employers to see total debt, late payments, payment history etc. As for renting, it would be discriminatory against certain religions that forbid debt. If you don't have debt, you can't have a credit score.

Edit: People really need to know the difference between FICO score and credit history. You can't challenge algorithm of a FICO Score number. You can challenge incorrect data on your credit report.


At least in the US, you are wrong on both accounts. Employers regularly check credit history, and every apartment rental agency I've ever dealt with has as well. They might not have an explicit numeric FICO threshhold that they use (or at least admit to using), but that's just semantics. They will pull your credit history, and if they don't like what's on it (or if you simply don't have one), they won't deal with you.

I lived outside the US for years, and even when I'm in the US, I don't participate in the credit market. I'm completely unable to rent apartments in NYC unless I work out an unofficial sublet arrangement (and get treated like a second class tenant at risk of eviction at all times), and even in the suburbs, it severely limits my apartment choices. The only reason it hasn't hurt me with employers (that I know of) is because I have a solid resume and references.


You should be able to do what most people with not to great credit do, prepay some amount of your total lease. Credit is to show that you pay on time. It makes total sense you're not able to rent without some validation that the landlord will get paid.


everybody prepay some amount on the lease, credit score or not.


Alas it's not really like that. The NYC rental market is incredibly tight. Most places already want a deposit plus first and last months' rent, which really just means double the deposit. Even if you have the cash for yet another deposit on top of that, they often won't entertain the idea. It's easier if you can deal directly with a landlord; agencies will generally have nothing to do with you. That and proof of a job/income should be way more than enough proof, but it's still not.

I'm a capitalist and a bit of a left-leaning libertarian, so I'm not saying landlords shouldn't have the right to act like this, or that I think the government needs to step in and regulate it. If I owned a property, I wouldn't want the government telling me whom I can rent to (more than they already do). Just providing examples of the creeping social credit system we have. I don't think it's about financial security once you're already asking for three months' rent just to move in; the financial part is pretty well covered by then.


The government has little to no say in who you rent it to. If I as a landlord want 100% of rental term up front, that's up to me and has no bearing on credit score, that is just a metric that helps me make a decision.


Employers don't only check your credit history, they check your background history using 3rd party verifying services (HireRight, Sterling, etc), which usually include credit checks.


This is a discussion on a social score. Would you argue that what you do on social media is the same as a social score? Difference being semantics.


Okay, so you admit that employers pull FICO scores, but that they then just go "well, we've seen it and now we won't use it in any way to influence any decisions whatsoever"? When why are they pulling it? That doesn't make any sense. It's a very safe assumption that if they're pulling it, they're using it for some reason (either current or future) relating to their decision to continue your employment.

As for renting: Do you have any examples of cases in which "religion" was used in conjunction with credit scores to successfully argue discrimination? Because I believe it's pretty standard to pull credit checks on renters before they sign a lease, and again, I'm going to (not so) boldly assume the landlord is then using that in their decision making.


They don't pull FICA scores. When I worked at financial company. We pulled credit history looking for negatives events as required by regulations dealing with securities/FINRA.


So you're just over here arguing semantics? "FICO" vs "credit history" is the "Kleanex" vs "tissues" debate of the credit world. A FICO score is just a brand name credit history product. The point, that your previous credit events can be used against you in employment and renting, stands the same.

Is your point that it's JUST the detailed credit history and not "the detailed credit history + FICO" score, because that just seems like a pedantic point to make (and also, impossible to prove. There's no reason someone couldn't obtain your FICO score for these reasons)

OP point still stands: your credit history can be used against you in renting and employment. You've not disproved this point.


Thats like saying a social credit score is the same thing as your social media postings.


I'm tapping out here if you're just going to keep going in on semantics my dude. You're not addressing the real point, that your credit score can be used against you in housing and employment, you're building a semantics straw man and attacking that.

I don't care about the relation between FICO score and credit history. It's tangential to this discussion.


Landlords and property management companies absolutely use FICO in the US. It's a strong indicator on whether you'll pay your rent on time, which is the largest payment most people make. From what I've seen, there is almost always a credit check run on people applying for a rental. When my credit wasn't so great, I had to pay several hundred extra for the deposit.


> As for renting, it would be discriminatory against certain religions that forbid debt. If you don't have debt, you can't have a credit score.

I've had credit-history checks done alongside criminal-background checks done for a number of apartments. One of my landlords told me it was a "negative event check," i.e. do you routinely miss payments, rather than an credit-worthiness check before a loan.

Just like I've occasionally had a startup ask me if I have a wife and kids in an interview, I'm sure there exist landlords that use a credit-check less judiciously.


I remember they required a check over credit history to decide whether you are eligible for renting.

I don't think there is law to forbid agencies to do this.


"The most disturbing attribute of a social credit system is not that it’s invasive, but that it’s extralegal. Crimes are punished outside the legal system, which means no presumption of innocence, no legal representation, no judge, no jury, and often no appeal. In other words, it’s an alternative legal system where the accused have fewer rights."

Also, what if you disagree with me politically about illegal immigration - does that give you a "right" to ban me from your establishment? Imagine it on the other side as well for people who are against abortion.


Also people lose their voice. Case in point:

"But some Chinese are unaware that it even exists. And many others actually like the idea. One survey found that 80% of Chinese citizens surveyed either somewhat or strongly approve of social credit system."

How many people actually like the idea and how many claim they do because they want to score points? The endgame is that the government can do whatever it wants and claim it is with "the support of the people"


The general populace agreeing with their leadership isn't unique to authoritarian societies. I'm sure a poll in the US will find broad support for many US government policies too, even when they're viewed negatively in other countries.

Note that I'm not supporting the social credit system (or disapproving either), I'm just pointing out that I don't think, unlike other responders here, that this poll finding is automatically void just because it was done in China. How many Americans would have been polled as "somewhat or strongly approving" of the invasion of Iraq in 2003?


There are many things that are not illegal, but ruin the experiences of others: cutting in line, making a scene to get freebies or comps, pushing. Previously, cities and towns were generally smaller and communities provided social pressure against this behavior.

Most people are aware of the Chinese tourist stereotype. Perhaps they see this "social credit" system as a way of combating that behavior now that communities are much too global to provide the social pressure they once did.


Indeed, surveys in totalitarian societies aren't worth anything. Imagine you have never seen anything resembling free press/idea exchange in your whole life, since childhood until now. Moreover, for some reason you are required at regular times of the year to publicly profess your political support without actually understanding what is it all about, as there is no opposing force to profess your ideas against (OK, maybe "America" in TV news). The clever/sociopathic ones just find ways to game the system until they get their "heads chopped off" by aligning to some fraction that loses some internal fight; whether you are a little person or a major figure, you have to follow the same algorithm.


the people would only believe what they believe, which exactly describe what you thinking right now. Because you think Chinese has no their own opinion, so they can't express themselves. I don't want to convince you, since I knew you won't believe me as well. Just want to tell you, Chinese is high intelligence human being like you, they are not stupid as you think.


The parent wasn't saying the Chinese aren't intelligent. He was saying if opening saying you hate the social credit system would cause you to lose credit on said system, you are incentivized to say nothing or feign support even if you don't. Because of this, there is now way to truly know how many people really support this. If it was a policy of one store, you would see the company succeed/fail. When it is the government, you lose the ability to vote with your feet.


> Because you think Chinese has no their own opinion, so they can't express themselves.

That was not what the poster you're replying to was saying. Quite the opposite, actually. The other poster was describing a political sophistication that would make an 80% approval rating for a social credit system a rather amusing irony.


Exactly right. Corporations already use a complex web of eula and tos that effectively opt you out of the legal system and into the court of their favorite arbiter.

If there's some guy out there with your name, who also lives in your state and also uses facebook, and he happens to be a klansman, by the time you realize that you have a Kafkaesque situation to sort out with your 'social capital,' the damage may already be tremendous. We already see this at the U.S. border with agents checking your social feeds, and in legions of stories about stolen identities... god help us.


>Also, what if you disagree with me politically about illegal immigration - does that give you a "right" to ban me from your establishment?

If the owner said that in the US? Well, probably not. If this hypothetical establishment is open to the public, they aren't allowed to discriminate based on political beliefs AFAIK.

They could just kick you out for 'no reason', but that seems hard to do without pretext.


Someone's political beliefs are not a federally protected class[1] and therefore it is legal to ban them if you want.

https://content.next.westlaw.com/5-501-5857


Id imagine I wouldn't be welcome in a church or mosque because of my views on abortion.


I think you might be surprised about how many churches don't ask / don't require you to share their exact views on abortion.


or that would welcome your visit anyway even if they do require it.


So long as you don't make a big deal out of it.

People who a big deal out of not fitting in in a way that most everyone else finds disagreeable gets told to gtfo because they don't fit in but this goes for basically every group, not just religious ones.


I'm no fan of churches or religion, but actually you'd be surprised. There's a bunch of Christian and other denominations that are really not anti-abortion. The Presbyterians and Lutherans are rather liberal these days and probably don't care about your view on it. Also, the Unitarians will certainly welcome you. They're not all conservative anti-abortion places the way you're thinking.

However, I will point out that the liberal Christian denominations are generally dying out these days: the evangelical denominations (who are the ones you're worried about) are the ones adding new members, building "mega-churches", etc., while the "mainline Protestant" denominations that have liberalized themselves a lot to try to stay relevant and get new members are full of elderly people who are literally dying off. Basically, younger people go one of two ways: if they're more liberal, they tend to just abandon religion (like me), but if they're conservative, they instead go to conservative (typically evangelical) churches.

Also, this is a US-centric view. Christians outside the US, esp. in Europe, tend to be far more liberal than in the US. If you go to a random non-Catholic church in western Europe and tell them your views, they'll probably be happy to have you. Even super-Catholic Ireland just legalized abortion.


Muslims aren't really anti-abortion the way evangelical Christians are - it is believed that the "soul" joins the fetus four months after conception.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_and_abortion#cite_note-1


It is this kind of exactness and certainly about a fantasy construct that makes humans so hilarious.


We welcome all people and religions in my church. Some people are vehemently pro choice. We're big on coffee time after service. Just look for your local Unitarian universalist church. Every one of them is slightly different and mostly crazy, but we're serious about our after service coffee time.


Do Unitiarians really call it a "church"? When I went to a Unitarian service they referred to the building as a "meeting house" and not a "church".


Some do, some don't. The ones I know in our family's congregation refer to it as a "church". I wouldn't be surprised if the pastor referred to it differently in formal public situations but people I know in the congregation call it a "church".

There's variability among UU congregations and individuals. It's like any religion in that way, although I think UU is maybe a little more heterogeneous than some.


Churches that don't welcome all aren't really functioning as churches. More like social clubs.

  And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need
  of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to
  call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

  Luke 5:31-32


Well functioning Churches are social clubs. Fellowship, witnessing and counseling are all found in Christian traditions of worship.


They certainly are "social clubs", but that doesn't mean they "aren't functioning" as churches. They're functioning just as their membership wants them to function. Whatever Jesus may have said is really irrelevant; I'm sure they can pull out some other bible verse that supports their hard-line position, and a religion isn't defined by some character in a book that may or may not be historically accurate, it's defined by how the members of that religion currently behave. If a church isn't welcoming to someone because of their views on abortion, you may think that goes against the spirit of that religion, but you're not the authority on that religion, that church is the authority on it for themselves (though they may disagree about many things with other churches/denominations).


you imagine incorrectly. it’s trivially easy to find faith communities with many views on that issue.


Respectfully, there are faith communities that hold any number of views without regard to their consistency with founding documents or traditions of teachings. I heartily recommend that for anyone who is genuinely seeking spiritual guidance to avoid religious establishments that do not challenge present cultural norms and mores.

However, it is very unlikely that a church is going to keep someone out, especially a non-believer, because of their views on abortion. Church attendance is generally open to everyone. It is participation in the sacraments (baptism, communion, etc.) and leadership that often requires doctrinal commitments.


respectfully, that sounds like a fairly mealy-mouthed implicit endorsement of a very specific 19th century form of textual literalism to me. Speak plainly when you state a position, and I'll be happy to return the favor. If i'm reading you properly, you ought to know beforehand that we have probably very different hermeneutics.

I would be happy to start on this issue by pointing to any number of long-running (like, millenia-long) ideas on this and other complex moral issues that are littered throughout the many texts of abrahamic faiths. Claiming that there is exactly one intepretation that's valid (which you implicitly do) is a crabbed and limiting way of reading and living pretty much all of the time.

On this specific front, my church only recognizes two sacraments, and both are open to all. With regards to challenging present norms and mores, I am happy to agree, albeit in a way that you almost certainly don't mean. For instance: the more of the body of christ that locks themselves to concentration camp gates, the better!


I had no intention of being less than candid. I was just trying to be concise. Let me see if I can put it more explicitly:

> Respectfully, there are faith communities that hold any number of views without regard to their consistency with founding documents or traditions of teachings

In the first part of my comment, regarding abortion (which was the subject brought up by astura) I am simply saying that the bulk of Christian teaching is against it (except perhaps where the life of the mother is in danger). This is not some parochial, evangelical fundamentalist position: the Catholic and Orthodox churches (and several different flavors of Protestantism) are in agreement on this. Theologians throughout history likewise concur. That is not to say that there has been no debate, but that debate has generally not been about whether abortion is generally wrong, only about what the exceptions are.

Any church that departs from such a strong and consistent tradition of teaching and embraces abortion without reservation is likely in all matters more influenced by the surrounding secular culture than by it's own scriptures and traditions.

> I heartily recommend that for anyone who is genuinely seeking spiritual guidance to avoid religious establishments that do not challenge present cultural norms and mores.

Here, I genuinely intend this to be more generic advice. The point of being a spiritual seeker is that you recognize there is something missing from the culture around you and you are looking for an alternative - something that is hopefully timeless.

> However, it is very unlikely that a church is going to keep someone out, especially a non-believer, because of their views on abortion. Church attendance is generally open to everyone. It is participation in the sacraments (baptism, communion, etc.) and leadership that often requires doctrinal commitments.

I hope this is clear enough.

Now to respond to your remarks:

> I would be happy to start on this issue by pointing to any number of long-running (like, millenia-long) ideas on this and other complex moral issues that are littered throughout the many texts of abrahamic faiths.

Please do.

> Claiming that there is exactly one intepretation that's valid (which you implicitly do) is a crabbed and limiting way of reading and living pretty much all of the time.

You are inferring something that I did not imply. There is not only one valid interpretation for many things. However, some interpretations cohere better and are better supported, and you can only stretch interpretations so far before it becomes dishonest.

> On this specific front, my church only recognizes two sacraments, and both are open to all.

Which ones? Does participation in these sacraments at least require an acknowledgment of the solemn purpose of those sacraments, or can you just do them for a laugh?

> With regards to challenging present norms and mores, I am happy to agree, albeit in a way that you almost certainly don't mean. For instance: the more of the body of christ that locks themselves to concentration camp gates, the better!

What events are you referencing?


Aside from the fact that there exists a wide variety in houses of worship such that your imagination is off-kilter, it's also worth mentioning that there is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison between a religious-group and a business.


Churches are scrambling for membership like they are gay bars, you might be surprised what you find!


Emailing us for help with one account while abusing the site with another is pretty cheap. I've banned both. Please don't make accounts to break HN's guidelines with.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Could you please review the guidelines? The bar for substantiveness here is higher than this.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Just open your wallet and you are going to be welcome in the ones that didn't welcome you first.


Honest discussions and reporting around anything involving China is quite difficult to come by these days. I would very much recommend everyone take any Western reporting with a grain of salt, especially from obvious pro-U.S. sources. Much of the coverage of the situation in HK can be seen as evidence of this. On this topic specifically, Wired's recent article over this was a breath of fresh air[1] for the overall state of news reporting when it comes to China.

Some clarification: First, when I talk about this slant in reporting Chinese affairs, it's not from a pro-CCP or pro-China position. Discussions about Chinese media and bias are still essential to have, but has nothing to do with the point I'm making here. Next, this issue isn't limited to just US media. There is arguably an observable bias even when it comes to Western academics that study or cover China in some capacity.

I'm sure aspects of this system in China earns a healthy dose of criticism and skepticism. However, it's important to consider the way this may be reported in the West, especially as tensions heat up between China and the US. Just think, for example, that it would not be very difficult to cover the US's credit score system as authoritarian, racist, or Orwellian. In fact, such cases have been made in the past and have some weight to them.

Just a thought.

[1] https://www.wired.com/story/china-social-credit-score-system...


> Wired's recent article over this was a breath of fresh air.

I agree that this article is pretty good. Ironically, Wired's first article about China's social credit system generated a lot of misinformation about the social credit system in the first place. Nothing was factually incorrect, but most of the article was pure speculation and then everyone on the internet treated that as fact.


Big +1. This sounds hyperbolic but I really do think that our best chance for world peace is resting on us reading primary sources.

If there are editorials, fine, but don't just confirmation bias and move on. Read the primary source.


Why do you think Google is indexing all your online purchases?

Look, online tracking inevitably leads to behavioral profiling. Put two behavioral profiles side by side and you have scoring, ranking. Add some weight on behaviors, age, income etc. and you have a social credit system.

Edit: the question is not if big tech already have social scores in us or not. The questions are when and how they will use it


Exactly; let's say you have a social media record or even a browsing history that indicates labor activism (or drug use, or health issues, or any other kind of activism). That data is saved somewhere, associated with you directly or just assembled into a behavioral profile for ad targeting purposes -- at least for now and as far as we can tell. And like racial bias, this data can be dumped into a neural net with a score at the end to launder what exactly is going on.


Why do you think Google is indexing all your online purchases?

See https://www.indiatimes.com/technology/news/google-scans-your...


Fully, fully agree.

Tech has opened up "channels of analysis" that the US spent a huge amount of time, effort, and social strife legislating against. Because of the hub-and-spoke model of tech and data, a lot of these channels have been re-opened in indirect, but socially important ways.

What goes in one end for social media, comes out the other end in your insurance rates. How do we think Rocket Mortgage generates am instantaneous rate, when mortgage lenders used to rely on a great deal of relationship management and building to do the same loan issuance (and, they had credit scores back then, so it's not only an API into FICO that's changed).

There are so many unknown unknowns here now. Previously, your mortgage rate bumped up if you lived in a red-line neighborhood. This was legislated against. Now, is the same thing happening with online banking/online health insurance rate quotes, etc., if you have a history of social media locations that place you in minority neighborhoods? Odds are, I bet yes, or something very similar.

The more people that realize what is going into seemingly innocuous uses of tech - game apps, social media, food ordering, comes out in the other end in things that really matter to us - banking (this guy's kid spends $1k a month on candy crush), insurance (see the article), politics (we all know this), the more this can start to be legislated safely, and at least make the consumer aware.


> That Instagram pic showing you teasing a grizzly bear at Yellowstone with a martini in one hand, a bucket of cheese fries in the other, and a cigarette in your mouth, could cost you. On the other hand, a Facebook post showing you doing yoga might save you money.

It will be a cold day in hell when any insurance company investigates you for potential fraud, decides you're not guilty, and then decides to LOWER your premiums as a result of their investigation. Premiums don't work that way. It's frustrating to see that float around as even a possibility from a blog like FastCompany that claims to know how the business world works. I find it incredibly frustrating anyone would even insinuate that insurance companies have a conscience.


Insurance companies already give away FitBits, have "health fairs," I remember getting a $50 Visa gift card for participating in some health thing at work. These are all in exchange for lower premiums your employer is likely negotiated.

I've heard similar stories about car insurance companies asking to install GPS into your car for discounts or per-mile billing.

I'm not quite sure about the end-game for insurance companies for things that aren't about catching fraud. If we have perfect data then we lose the risk-pooling for insurance--then you're no longer insuring against anything and that seems like a different type of business to me.


The innocent explanation is if they see it as reducing the risk in their pool - the equivalent of it is cheaper to give away flu vaccines than say 25% reduction in flu hospitalizations it is a win-win. Assuming it is always the case is naive however.

However the tracking is suspicious. Insurance companies have a bad habit of trying to never pay what they promise out of greed - despite doing so sawing at the branch they sit upon.

As a rule of thumb if the insurance company learns nothing from what it gives away it is probably trustworthy.


If it's like car insurance, a competitor would use that data to lure you away with a lower premium.


Except we know that's not how the younger generations buy insurance. [1]

Many people buy the insurance they can afford. That means lowest up-front costs or flat out whoever will actually give you a policy. There's not nearly as much choice in the matter as you're making it out to be. Most people don't have the luxury of shopping for the best value plan. So the lowest barrier for picking up an insurance plan isn't who has the best price.

It's who has the lowest standards for what they'll insure. The nature of the game means that those two selling points (price & availability) are mutually exclusive.

[1] https://www.agencynation.com/millennials-independent-agents/


Isn't this already done to a great extent through black balling?

SV recruiters blackball candidates/potential employees (often for no reason than petty vindictiveness);

SV incubators/VCs use blackball lists;

even insurance has internal lists in order to assess and deny claims based on nothing other than the "social credit" of the claimant rather than the merits of the claim itself. They even go a step further and insurance will rate/rank a claimant's attorney, so you may have a good claim that gets denied because you have a low ranking attorney, or you may have a weak claim they approve because your attorney is highly ranked (probably has a number of jury verdicts in similar cases).


> SV recruiters blackball candidates/potential employees (often for no reason than petty vindictiveness);

How do you know about this blacklist? How is it shared and maintained.


It's not a written down list. The way it works is that when you are considered for a company, someone there might reach out to people they know at your former or current employer and get the inside info on you. Those people are usually higher up the hierarchy than you. So if they have some grudge they hold against you, then you won't get hired irrespective of how you did in the interview and you will never know the real reason.

This is the hidden power structure that crosses companies. And this power structure holds and maintains all sorts of biases: alumni, ethnicity, religion, gender, socioeconomic, etc... It works the other way too in terms of some people getting hired who otherwise wouldn't.

In fact, that person holds the relationship with the other person in higher regard than you and will in fact report to the other person that you have been interviewing at another company. Applies to recruiters, managers, HR, you name it.


I always thought blackballing was one of those “widely understood to be true but never proven” rumors. Like the Silicon Valley big company no-poach agreements, before they were actually shown to be true.


Point 11. ‘You’re being blacklisted…at companies outside Google’

https://thefederalist.com/2018/01/10/19-insane-tidbits-james...


>How do you know about this blacklist?

Lawsuits, screenshots and public quotes.


I have never heard of a blackball list at large SV companies unless it was something egregious that person did. Things like starting a fight with security, coming to an interview drunk, etc. will get you on it.


>I have never heard of a blackball list at large SV companies unless it was something egregious that person did

But what side of the story did you get? The side of the person doing the blackballing or the person being blackballed?

Just as a counter example (there is a link in this thread to exerts from a employment lawsuit against Google), one Google Manager is quoted outright...

"...I don’t care if you are perfect fit or technically excellent or whatever. I will actively not work with you, even to the point where your team or product is impacted by this decision. I’ll communicate why to your manager if it comes up. You’re being blacklisted by people at companies outside of Google,You might not have been aware of this, but people know, people talk. There are always social consequences.”

What is the offense? Apparently holding republican/conservative values.


>coming to an interview drunk, etc. will get you on it.

Really what about the SV party culture ? And if the companies are that professional and only care about your work why does the age bias exist ?


> Really what about the SV party culture ?

What party culture? I worked at Google in Mountain View and never saw any of this, nor "brogrammers", nor endless mandated/encouraged overtime, or most of the other stereotypes that seem to perpetuate themselves.


>I worked at Google in Mountain View and never saw any of this, nor "brogrammers"...

How long did you work there >5 or >10 years or sth like that or just a stint ?


even if this party culture was a thing, I'm pretty sure showing up to an interview drunk would still be outside of 'party culture' norms


This makes me wonder which company made this "Social Credit Drone Strike List" [1]

> In 2014, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden said in a public debate, “We kill people based on metadata.”

> According to multiple reports and leaks, death-by-metadata could be triggered, without even knowing the target’s name, if too many derogatory checks appear on their profile. “Armed military aged males” exhibiting suspicious behavior in the wrong place can become targets, as can someone “seen to be giving out orders.” Such mathematics-based assassinations have come to be known as “signature strikes.”

1. rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/how-to-survive-americas-kill-list-699334/


> Such mathematics-based assassinations have come to be known as “signature strikes.”

Meet the algo behind the math assassinations, its name is literally SKYNET [0]

[0] https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/02/the-n...


Fundamentally, for a service to not be discriminatory, it must be regulated like a utility (e.g. telephone, electric, etc).

Using something that has the same functionality as a utility but is not regulated as such raises some questions.

Also, profiling social media is nothing new. It's not uncommon for insurance companies to hire private investigators to look into suspicious cases. One case I heard was a man going on disability citing being homebound but the private investigator found evidence completely to the contrary. I fail to see how this is any different.


Adding reasons why opting out of social media 10 years ago was and remains a good idea.


Comparing it to social credit is disingenuous even though there are real problems with existing and proposed ratings and their applications.

Social Credit is a wrong-headed authoritarian tool of control that is enforced and has jack and shit to do with actual creditworthiness. It only "works" from being pressures because otherwise the companies shouldn't give a shit if they want to optimize for profits. If you tried to sell a loan evaluation system for banks based upon how they treated their parents in the US or Europe they would tell you to not waste their time again.

There are problems with the current scoring systems of course - the burden of proof for identity theft is utterly backwards, credit scores have major "how good of a cash cow are you" aspects mixed in to what should be pure reliability, and idiots in recruiting use it for employement evaluation when it is utterly irrelevant.

Even if the system winds up unjust and stupid there are large differences - the comparison isn't helpful.


Indeed so. That is one of the major reasons why I don't use social media, and go to great lengths to evade the pervasive spying that major tech companies have brought into fashion.


Didn't this happen before with some group called "Klout" or some such? I don't remember what happened to them.


Purchased by Lithium Technologies in 2014, shuttered in 2018. [0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klout


They were bought for their machine learning algorithms and the purchaser ditched the rating service because they recognized it was a bad idea.


This could and should be a huge US election issue. Tulsi Gabbard is suing Google and has made some pretty strong statements about big tech. I fear all the other candidates are under the sway of the DC lobbyists where Google. FB et al spend tens of millions



These false equivalences are not helpful at all.


Why are they false?


In China, the government has the ability to make me disappear whereas a silicon valley corp. can't. That's the major difference here.


True, they can just ruin your life, but at least they can't just kill you. That makes it totally okay.


That's at least something citizens can act upon. In China they'll just bury you.


Just like citizens can act up on, say, getting blackballed by Google and having their email gone forever?


It's easy for citizens to fight back against that - by not using Google as their email provider (and educating others about the risks). There are many free and paid alternatives to Gmail.


Are you comparing losing your email versus being kidnapped and held in jail without access to a lawyer or courts?


No, I'm saying this is a thing that deeply impacts people's lives which they cannot, in fact, "act upon" when they are wronged.


Take regular backups has always been good advice, that doesn't go away just because a company handles your email for you. Always take archives from cloud services just like you backup HDDs, use a custom domain to forward inbound email traffic and you'll be 100% protected.

You chose the worst example of Google being able to ruin somebody's life when if they really wanted to be evil, they'd have a monumental amount of data for blackmail, the ability to silence you online, etc..


just wait til the red flag law gets passed


Careful there dlphn__xyz... I'd hate to have to report you /s


Still Not a valid reason to allow this abomination to happen here. You dont think that some Govt Dept wont strong arm this technology to do things to you and everyone who supports you?


As long as it's not state enforced, not equivalent.


Insurances assessing risk based on publicly available information (social media posts) is in no way comparable to a social credit system.

PatronScan looks potentially more dangerous, but the law in the US and UK (for example and afaik) is that you are free to refuse service to anyone you please as long as it is not illegal discrimination (e.g. in the UK, race or sexual orientation).

Once again what this highlights is the power gained by these online platforms. On the one hand as private companies they have no obligation of universal service, on the other hand some of them have so much power that being excluded has a real impact on people.

This reinforces my opinion that either these tech giants will effectively rule, or they will have to be controlled in a way similar to what China does in order to keep decisions on censorship, exclusion, and provision of service within public hands.


> but the law in the US and UK (for example) is that you are free to refuse service to anyone you please as long as it is not illegal discrimination (e.g. in the UK, race or sexual orientation).

There is more to discrimination law, including "gotchas" like adverse impact.

> or they will have to be controlled in a way similar to what China does in order to keep decisions on censorship, exclusion, and provision of service within public hands.

The Western nations seem more concerned with who and what is banned from a platform, the Chinese the opposite, banning speech the Party doesn't like and, perhaps more in line with the West, leveraging these companies as intelligence assets.

In this way, the Silicon Valley companies themselves are more like the Chinese whereas the current administration less so.


The point is that access to many platforms has become important enough that private companies should not be the ones calling the shots. This includes access to service and censorship.

I fear that we have opened the pandora box and now the alternatives are those I mentioned.

> There is more to discrimination law, including "gotchas" like adverse impact.

Not in the UK, unless mandated by law in specific industries.


> I fear that we have opened the pandora box and now the alternatives are those I mentioned.

I don't know that we've opened the box so much as we've built or otherwise inherited a system that allows for what we have now. No reason we can't legally preclude social-media companies from excluding based on their arbitrary and capricious criteria.

> Not in the UK, unless mandated by law in specific industries.

I was talking about the US, specifically. Honestly a bit weird to group the two together in the first place, being very different countries.


> No reason we can't legally preclude social-media companies from excluding based on their arbitrary and capricious criteria.

And thus social media, and other platforms, are controlled or at least heavily regulated by the government.


> the law in the US and UK (for example) is that you are free to refuse service to anyone you please as long as it is not illegal discrimination

Just wondering what does it mean and how can this ever be enforced? Does this mean that you can refuse service to anyone as long as they are not part of any minority?


Race, gender, religion, disability... I'm probably forgetting a few other protected classes that you can't discriminate against.

That said, you only cannot discriminate on the basis of one of those listed above. There are unfortunately many people who will try to discriminate using a rule which indirectly singles out a group (I am intentionally omitting examples, use your imagination).

There are, perhaps more unfortunately, valid reasons to serve one cohort and not another that can have bias along these lines. Once again, the actions of some hateful few can ruin things for the rest of us.


In the UK there is a list of so-called protected characteristics that originates from EU law. It includes sex, race, age, sexual orientation, religion. It is not legal to discriminate based on those. In general it is legal to otherwise refuse service. I suspect the US are similar.

On the other hand, for example in France it is illegal to refuse service unless you have a good reason to.

So in the UK if I walk to a market stall with money in my hand they are free to refuse to sell to me (I suspect the same is true in the US), but in France they would need a 'good reason' to refuse.


> So in the UK if I walk to a market stall with money in my hand they are free to refuse to sell to me,

But I do not understand how can this be enforced. If for example you are gay and are refused service, can't you claim that it is due to your sexual orientation? Conversely, if the shop wants to expel you because of illegal reasons, can't they always claim that it is due to some other, ridiculous but valid reason?


Yes you can obviously claim that, and yes they can obviously claim this was not the reason.

Then it's the usual job of the courts to try to uncover the facts.




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