Reporter Kashmir Hill from The New York Times (NYT) published an informative piece this week about our secret consumer scores. We all know that retail companies monitor our clicks on their websites, sell our data not protected by law, and aggregate, slice and dice the data so they can target us with ads. But we may not be as aware as we should be about how companies are rating us by using the data. Yes, they are giving us a consumer score. And it’s secret.
According to Hill, Christopher Mims of The Wall Street Journal reported on Sift, a company “whose proprietary scoring system tracks 16,000 factors for companies like Airbnb and OkCupid.” Mims stated that “Sift judges whether or not you can be trusted, yet there’s no file with your name that it can produce upon request.”
Hill reached out to Sift to get her file and was shocked to find out that the Sift report on her was over 400 pages long and “contained all the messages I’d ever sent to hosts on Airbnb; years of Yelp! delivery orders; a log of every time I’d opened the “Coinbase app on my iPhone. Many entries included detailed information about the device I used to do these things, including my IP address at the time.”
The information was so detailed that it knew when she used her iPhone to order take-out food more than three years ago, when she changed her password on the Coinbase app, and every single message she sent to an Airbnb host during a Thanksgiving holiday. The messages are being reviewed by Sift for other companies to try to identify stolen credit cards being used in fraudulent ways. Hill says, “The fact that obscure companies are accumulating information about years of our online and offline behavior is unsettling, and at a minimum it creates the potential for abuse or discrimination—particularly when those companies decide we don’t stack up.”
Hill gives a step-by-step tutorial on how to find out what information these companies have about you and how you can request those data. Some of the companies involved include Sift, Zeta Global, Retail Equation, and Kustomer. I will be following that tutorial myself. Hill says, “If you submit a request to any of these companies and get back something weird, please share your experience with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.” Please share it with me, too.