Like it or not, social media is a big part of our lives. In fact, 81% of Americans have at least one social media profile, and we now use 2,675,700 GB of Internet data per minute! Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and YouTube are popular social media platforms, but Facebook is still the biggest, with more than 2 billion users worldwide.
People post just about every detail of their lives these days, share droves of links and content from others, and reach far past their circle of friends that they know in real life.
But it might not just be other social media users who are watching your Facebook and social media accounts and judging you. In fact, banks, lenders, and credit bureaus may soon be paying attention to your social media usage – denying you for a loan or lowering your score based on what they see.
Already, the scope that our personal data from social media is collected, shared, and sold is startling. Pretty soon, you might be denied for a loan on a credit card, a car, or even a mortgage because of who you’re friends with on Facebook. For instance, the average credit score of your social media friends and network could be a factor that influences your credit worthiness, too – a scary proposition. It’s not as far-fetched as you may think.
Back in the “good old days,” lending in the U.S. usually took place on a more personal level, with consumers walking into the local branch of their hometown bank. They sat down with a banker whom they already knew a long time and made their case for approving the loan during a conversation, with the bank granting or denying their request based on their character and reputation.
We’ve come a long way since then, and now, lending decisions are made uniformly with mountains of data collected and interpreted by nameless, faceless credit agencies with advanced algorithms – the credit bureaus.
But even with all of our advanced technology, some things never change, as credit bureaus and lenders may well be turning back the clock and trying to gauge your character, lifestyle, and reputation before approving you for a loan. Not only can they look at what you post, but check-ins, what content you like and share, and even the groups or brand pages you belong to.
The U.S. Patent office recently granted an updated patent on technology that combs social media for evidence of a person’s closest network of friends. It then relays that information to potential creditors, who can make lending decisions based on the friends’ perceived financial stability.
The patent, which Facebook first acquired from Friendster and inventor Christopher Lunt in 2010, actually has a much broader scope of intended use than just data mining for lenders. In fact, the main purpose of the patent is to protect technology that formulates and tracks how social media users are connected in a social network, protecting them from spam
But another use in the patent’s official application (called use cases in patent-speak) definitely outlines that same technology functioning as a way for lenders to aggregate credit scores and financial data from your Facebook friends when you apply for a loan.
All of this can eventually factor into their complex algorithms that gauge you as a solid candidate for a new loan – or a big credit risk.
However, there are several reasons why credit risk monitoring via social media may not be practical, ethical, or even legal.
First off, we have the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, a federal law that states that credit must be granted to all creditworthy applicants without paying credence to their race, religion, gender, marital status, age and other personal characteristics. That’s the exact reason you aren’t asked your race, religion, etc. on any loan application or credit form. But that information is often readily available on many Facebook and social media profiles, which opens the door for discriminatory practices.
Next, credit decisions are all supposed to be transparent and disputable. That means you’re supposed to know why your score goes up and down, and there can’t be mysterious or secret factors that play into your score that are disclosed on your credit report. Likewise, you have the right and ability to dispute incorrect items on your credit such as duplicate items, bad information, or even accounts opened and used by ID thieves.
But when credit bureaus track and use your social media usage to help determine your credit worthiness, they’re using factors that are neither transparent or disputable.
Furthermore, pundits point out that social media accounts can be easily manipulated. For instance, if a social media user knows that creditors are watching, they might purposely post certain things, like certain brands, check-in at certain places, etc. that would reflect positively upon them in the eyes of creditors. Basically, they could also set up fake or duplicate social media accounts, or you have the risk of someone else setting up a social media profile in another real person’s name.
Lenders will always look for “alternative data” to improve the accuracy of their credit lending decisions, some things. Cell phone usage, paying rent on time, and even bank account activity could possibly impact your credit score shortly.
But the potential for creditors to track your social media usage raises some serious concerns.