Internet Privacy Developments

Facebook logo, pound sterling sign, all on computer screenLast month I was appalled – but not particularly surprised – to learn that your credit rating in the future could be affected by who you hang around with on Facebook. A company called Lenddo claims on its website to be “… the world’s first credit scoring service that uses your online social network to assess credit.” Admittedly, they do say on their website that they’re aiming themselves at “professionals in emerging markets” rather than UK citizens, but that doesn’t affect the principle and it doesn’t stop this from being – potentially – the thin end of a very nasty wedge.

So, if you are “friends” (according to Facebook’s meaning of that word) with people who have a poor credit rating then your own credit rating could be affected. I know I’m in danger of showing my age here, but I was brought up to believe that finances are a personal and a private matter. It’s none of my business what someone else’s credit rating is – whether they are friends, family, colleagues or anyone else (unless, of course, I enter a financial relationship with them). Lenddo. however, are saying EXACTLY the opposite. They are saying that if I apply to them for a loan then YOUR credit rating becomes part of MY financial business if you and I are Facebook friends. If you are a computer client of mine then our financial relationship is based on trust and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But if I’m daft enough to take Lenddo and Facebook seriously I might now be interested in your financial status because it could reflect on my own – rather than on whether I think you will pay my bill for the computer service I provide!

It gets worse. Lenddo could be finding out all kinds of other information from a Facebook account – such as sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity – that a lending institution would not normally know. In fact, it would be probably be against industry codes of practice and even discrimination legislation for such factors to be included when considering providing credit. How can you be sure that any CRA (Credit Rating Agency) has only considered those factors that are legal and ethical if they’ve trawled through your Facebook account?

But it gets even worse than this. Lenddo explicitly states that it “MAINTAINS THE RIGHT TO NOTIFY YOUR FRIENDS, FAMILY AND COMMUNITY if the borrower fails to repay”. This is a quote from their website, including the capital letters. So, picture the situation. You’re having a hard time, going through a bad patch, lost your job, lacking confidence, scared about how you are going to repay your debts and then, wham, you find out that one of your creditors is telling all your Facebook friends that you’re welching on your financial obligations. That’s really going to help. Lends a new meaning to the idea of “social network”, doesn’t it?

When news of Lenddo hit the fan last month I decided not to blog about it because I know I already bang on a bit about the downside of social networks. I’ve only changed my mind this week because I’m pleased to be able to balance this development with some much better news about privacy and the internet:

A woman (identified only as AMP) has obtained an injunction to “prevent transmission, storage and indexing of any part or parts of certain photographic images which are claimed to belong to the Claimant”. AMP had lost a mobile phone containing photographs intended only for the sight of herself and her partner. These appeared on the internet, together with enough information to identify the subject of the photographs. In the past, courts have been very reluctant to intervene when content has reached the internet. It is very, very difficult to stop the spread of data once it has been published online. In most cases, it is thought, any injunction would be unenforceable and, therefore, would do no more than bring the law into disrepute (remember all the fuss about “super injunctions” being subverted by Twitterers/Tweeters/Twits last year?). In this case, however, the judge ruled that the spread of the photos had not become uncontrollable as anyone looking for the material would (a) have to know that the material exists and is, therefore, worth searching for and (b) would need to know the identity of the subject in order to do the searching and (c) could, in principle, be traced on account of the way the files are copied and spread. The injunction was, therefore, granted. Aah, that’s better. Click here for the full Judgement.

(Last updated 07/09/2023)