We have talked previously regarding online reputations [You are what you Facebook, January 2012] and how things such as your Facebook timeline, tagged photos or number of friends will influence your future credit score.
However following on from an article in last month’s Wired Magazine[Welcome to the Reputation Economy, Wired UK, September 2012] it seems that it may not only be straightforward social networking habits that influence your future standing but also all kinds of freely available online data that looks set to impact your financial credibility, career prospects and even the chances of you renting a car or booking select holiday destination. You may not have been informed as yet, but your virtual self is set to become big business.
Scary, Orwellian stuff you may think, however, doesn’t it in reality make perfect sense? We’ve all googled ourselves and scrolled through the wealth of information available to the world at large. Why not use this data to form a kind of living, expanding and breathing CV?
Our profiled selves encompass and summarise all kinds of scores, comments and feedback. Left some helpful advice for someone on the Money Saving Expert forums? Add it to your ranking. Sold some dodgy shoes on ebay and got negative feedback? Take one step forward and two steps back. This sphere of online influence is pertinent and informative, so why not put it to a use beyond each individual site’s own ratings and share your profile across all kinds of sites?
Recruitment is one area, which already takes advantage of the full flow of information readily available to anyone and everyone. Reported stories of candidates being left out in the cold after interviewers have come across a drunken tagged photo or unsuitable ‘like’. This is a world in which a high degree of trust is asked of strangers and serious money put on the line to employ, train and invest in individuals. It makes perfect sense to gain a full and rounded picture of, for example, a young graduate yet to create their own career path.
The financial sector again has clearly long been operating on a similar level and is looking to expand traditional notions of credit scoring using non-traditional data capture. Giving lenders a deeper insight into someone’s ethics, community standing or general good karmic actions already inform loan and credit decisions.
Wonga, the short-term moneylender, claims to filter 8,000 pieces of data to gauge a customer’s character before handing over the cash. Its founder, Errol Damelin notes, “Even when they are able to repay, will they or won’t they? It’s a totally different question” [Wired Sept 2012].
So while a certain projected image can be accessed and assessed, it is still impossible for companies to score individuals as simple indexes. But look sharp as it seems that in the next decade we can expect this to be the shape of things to come.
Debates surrounding personal data and privacy will rage on and companies must form guidelines around responsible use of data, with our many varied online characters set in different contexts, just as we all behave one way in a certain situations and another way somewhere else.
So, no matter what the outcome is, it’s probably worth investing some time and thought into your online self. But here’s one thing for sure, I am definitely not a number but I am not sure I am a free (wo)man either…