Major American corporations, including online and retail businesses, employers and landlords are using Secret Surveillance Scores to charge some people higher prices for the same product than others, to provide some people with better customer services than others, to deny some consumers the right to purchase services or buy or return products while allowing others to do so and even to deny people housing and jobs.
The Secret Surveillance Scores are generated by a shadowy group of privacy-busting firms that operate in dark recesses of the American marketplace. They collect thousands or even tens of thousands of intimate details of each person’s life – enough information, it is thought, to literally predetermine a person’s behavior – either directly or through data brokers. Then, in what is euphemistically referred to as “data analytics,” the firms’ engineers write software algorithms that instruct computers to parse a person’s data trail and develop a digital “mug shot.” Eventually, that individual profile is reduced to a number – the score – and transmitted to corporate clients looking for ways to take advantage of, or even avoid, the consumer.
Because these new algorithmic scoring systems are closely guarded secrets, consumers have no knowledge that they are victims, and no recourse when a score based on inaccurate information is used to make a negative decision about them. Surveillance scoring empowers corporations to engage in modern-day redlining with enormous potential to conceal racial and other forms of discrimination against consumers.
We have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate and stop illegal surveillance scoring.