• United States



Company wants full access to your social media accounts to spy for landlords, employers

Jun 12, 20164 mins
Data and Information SecurityInternetSecurity

A UK startup believes you will hand over complete access to your social media accounts so an algorithm can help landlords or employers decide if you are worthy of housing or a job.

If a UK startup has its way, then you will hand over full access to your social media accounts – “including entire conversation threads and private messages” – so it can be scraped and analyzed to help potential landlords and employers decide if you are a risk worth taking.

Why in the world would you agree to such a thing? Score Assured co-founder Steve Thornhill told The Washington Post, “People will give up their privacy to get something they want.”

The company launched “Tenant Assured” so landlords can decide if you would be a good tenant. It uses an algorithm to “deep dive” into your social media accounts and give landlords “insights into five main personality traits: extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.”

Checking credit reports and browsing public social media accounts is so yesterday. The company claims that “real personalities can be found in much more insightful stuff like tweets, comments, likes, the things people love to buy and the places they check-in – even in the people they choose to spend their time with.”

A landlord can use the service to “look at the character of a person, if they’ve got pets, if they are always out partying,” Thornhill told The Telegraph. “It’s a great way for them to see if a tenant is suitable for their property.”

It’s common for attorneys and employers to scope out social networks to vet jurors and hire employees and for social media posts to impact a person’s online reputation as well as their offline life; such online snooping has resulted in people being fired, turned down for a mortgage, or denied entrance to universities. Monitoring social media posts is even done by schools for students’ “safety.” But Tenant Assured goes deeper.

The Washington Post explained:

After your would-be landlord sends you a request through the service, you’re required to grant it full access to your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and/or Instagram profiles. From there, Tenant Assured scrapes your site activity, including entire conversation threads and private messages; runs it through natural language processing and other analytic software; and finally, spits out a report that catalogues everything from your personality to your “financial stress level.”

Can an algorithm accurately measure how easy it is for prospective renters to pay their bills based on the frequency of “keywords like ‘no money,’ ‘poor,’ and ‘staying in’?” The Post warned, “Make no mistake: The data will mislead.”

Yet Thornhill blew off concerns that keyword-scraping could give an inaccurate picture. He claimed, “All we can do is give them the information. It’s up to landlords to do the right thing.”

People who say yes to Tenant Assured won’t have “any way to view their ratings or dispute misleading data.” Good housing may be hard to find in some areas, but just say no to housing which requires such invasive measures. At least it won’t be coming to the U.S., since it violates housing discrimination laws.

However, Recruit Assured, a similar service for employers, is “coming soon;” do you really want to work for a company that starts off invading your privacy to this degree even before you work for it?

By the end of July, comparable “social media dossier” services will reportedly be offered even for “parents shopping around for nannies.”

It should come as no surprise that Thornhill apparently subscribes to the “nothing to hide” mind-set, saying, “If you’re living a normal life, then, frankly, you have nothing to worry about.”

Sadly, some people will agree and then opt-in when a potential landlord or employers demands it. But hopefully the majority of people will realize how ridiculous that statement is, how misleading keyword-scraping for ranking could be, and push back.

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.