Gonna try with a little help from my friends
September 3, 2015 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Facebook Wants to Redline Your Friends List. Facebook recently filed a patent for its technology tracking how users connect within a network. Three of the uses described focus on how this information could be used to filter spam, tailor search results, or determine access to a third-party website. The fourth use explains how the credit ratings of those in a user's social network could be used to determine loan eligibility. This is raising concerns about data discrimination.
posted by earth by april (41 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Earlier this month, the social giant filed to protect a tool ostensibly designed to track how users are networked together—a tool that could be used by lenders to accept or reject a loan application based on the credit ratings of one’s social network.

I'd have to go back over my FDIC compliance manuals to be sure, but I'm pretty sure this would be super duper illegal somehow.
posted by fifthrider at 7:16 PM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


I have an excellent credit rating and will accept your Facebook friend request for a very modest fee.
posted by straight at 7:24 PM on September 3, 2015 [52 favorites]


Surprised they got that patented as there's already been a bunch of companies (e.g. lenddo) who flamed out in this space. It strikes me as the sort of predictive juju that sounds plausible, but isn't, actually.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 7:31 PM on September 3, 2015


That's it. Last straw. I'm officially going to delete my facebahhhh who am I kidding.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 7:34 PM on September 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Has there every been a "Facebook Wants to _____ Your _______" headline that's been GOOD news??
posted by argonauta at 7:36 PM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


[vomiting noises]
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:41 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fack Fucebook.
posted by eriko at 7:44 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


FACEBOOK WANTS TO PIMP YOUR RIDE
posted by The White Hat at 7:48 PM on September 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


I highly doubt this is going to go anywhere. Banks already have much better information than this to assess credit worthiness - salary data, mortgage repayments, transaction data going back years. They know what you earn, what you spend, what and where you spend it. I guarantee you, they are working that data for all it's worth. This directly-sourced, assured data is way more accurate and reliable than inferences drawn by Facebook from the behaviour of third parties in the context of social networking, where many people provide deliberately false or poor quality data.

Facebook is just throwing ideas in the patent bag. This will probably amount to nothing.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:49 PM on September 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


I am sympathetic to the concerns raised (and have to be, professionally), but the term "data discrimination" is surely worse than useless. Unless they're just meaning "making decisions based upon evidence", which is something I have a hard time getting upset about.
posted by pompomtom at 7:51 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


This idea seems counterproductive in that if you were forced into micromanaging your facebook facade with an eye toward boosting your credit rating, all the fake behavior you feed into the system would make it useless to advertisers. So far, nearly everyone has been willing to share nearly everything with facebook, but no one has been given this clear of a financial incentive to falsify and obfuscate.
posted by Vulgar Euphemism at 7:57 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


A tech company filling a patent means that one guy had an idea and was able to convince his company's patent committee that it would be worth spending a few grand to file. That's it. Patents don't have to have any relationship to product plans and most often don't. Some groups actively set quotas on patents which can lead to really silly results; other times one guy will file like 50 patent applications just for personal fame and glory.
posted by miyabo at 7:59 PM on September 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


I'd have to go back over my FDIC compliance manuals to be sure, but I'm pretty sure this would be super duper illegal somehow.

Facebook is super late to this kinda of thing. Recruiters from ZestFinance have been hitting me up since late 2011, and their business model is using weird criteria in figuring out loan risk.
posted by sideshow at 8:01 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


A tech company filling a patent means that one guy had an idea and was able to convince his company's patent committee that it would be worth spending a few grand to file. That's it. Patents don't have to have any relationship to product plans and most often don't. Some groups actively set quotas on patents which can lead to really silly results; other times one guy will file like 50 patent applications just for personal fame and glory.

That's true as far as it goes. But patent applications also do a good job of demonstrating how the people who work there are thinking about the unrealized affordances of their product / IP. While this particular idea probably won't ever get realized it points to a lot of other ways that the world can be made worse.
posted by junco at 8:05 PM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Unless they're just meaning "making decisions based upon evidence", which is something I have a hard time getting upset about.

The problem isn't that they're making decisions based on evidence. The problem is the enormous and growing power imbalance between individuals and businesses, which this only serves to worsen.

On the one hand, you have everyday schmoes, who have increasingly fewer options to get ahead other than going into debt, and who have little recourse as practices like these are adopted.

On the other hand, you have the behemoth that is Facebook, with vast financial resources and sophisticated data-mining technology to throw toward the purpose of maximizing profits for themselves and for lenders. The public doesn't win in that situation—the few who control the financial and technological power do.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:05 PM on September 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Are we going to do this every time one of these stories comes out? Facebook is a private, for-profit company whose business model is finding new and profitable ways to package the data we willingly hand over to them. Nobody is forcing anybody to use Facebook.
posted by dry white toast at 8:08 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


The fourth use explains

Fourth use. Yep. When I write a patent application, I try to throw in as many alternative embodiments as possible. They don't all have to be workable or great ideas. It's about giving yourself room to maneuver during the patent examination process.
posted by naju at 8:08 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nobody is forcing anybody to use Facebook.

That doesn't mean that what they're doing isn't creepy and sociopathic.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:11 PM on September 3, 2015 [17 favorites]


How stupid of me, I forget Facebook is a business. It seems to me, the more friends you have, the less reliable the data. I guess Facebook adjusts to pyramid forms, typical of celebrity or multi-level marketers.
posted by Oyéah at 8:31 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Speaking of "data discrimination", Apple submitted a patent application where they want to tailor the ads you get based specifically on your personal financial information (like your credit score).
posted by Poldo at 8:34 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


We absolutely should criticize things like this. Many of our laws concerning such things assume landline phones are involved.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:36 PM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


When a government hoovers up your info to potentially use it against you, that's a bad thing.

When a corporation hoovers up your info to potentially use against you, eh
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:37 PM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm confused. Does this mean I should or shouldn't add Mark Zuckerberg as a friend?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:02 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Trick question. You should add MySpace Tom as a friend.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:45 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm confused. Does this mean I should or shouldn't add Mark Zuckerberg as a friend?

Since Zuckerberg's credit rating probably can only be represented in up arrow notation you're probably safe.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 9:58 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


The problem isn't that they're making decisions based on evidence. The problem is the enormous and growing power imbalance between individuals and businesses, which this only serves to worsen.

Quite, which is why I'm whinging about the shit label. I do a bit of discrimination based on data. It's my job. It's largely what data is for. If I can't use it to discriminate, there's little point in storing it.

I suppose I'm just being nitpicky but concerns about opaqueness of process, and the information gulf between info-professionals and consumers, are the issues here - not simply people using data to discriminate between choices.

On the other hand, you have the behemoth that is Facebook, with vast financial resources and sophisticated data-mining technology to throw toward the purpose of maximizing profits for themselves and for lenders. The public doesn't win in that situation—the few who control the financial and technological power do.

I largely agree - though I suspect (as other commenters have already mentioned) that most lenders already do this sort of thing internally. I think FB would have to price their offering pretty attractively for lenders to want to incorporate this data. I'm not saying they won't, of course, given the pace and eagerness with which the general public hurl their private information at FB.
posted by pompomtom at 10:09 PM on September 3, 2015


But patent applications also do a good job of demonstrating how the people who work there are thinking about the unrealized affordances of their product / IP.

Sort of, although in my personal history of filing tens of patents, it more demonstrated "what do I think the patent lawyers will allow me to file so I can collect my patent bonus".
posted by thefoxgod at 11:41 PM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


I am sympathetic to the concerns raised (and have to be, professionally), but the term "data discrimination" is surely worse than useless. Unless they're just meaning "making decisions based upon evidence", which is something I have a hard time getting upset about.

Previously on MeFi: Can an algorithm be racist?

The answer is yes.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:42 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


So - no worse than humans then? Or is there a concern that FB's algorithms would be more racist than those employed by BigBank PLC? Where I sit, and your jurisdiction may be different, discriminating in the provision of goods or services on the basis of race is illegal. I'd be interested to know if the tests involved could be applied to software - I suppose working out 'why' a neural network has put you in a certain bucket could be difficult, but there are other data-mining algorithms where you could fairly easily suss it out. More easily than with a human, I'd think.
posted by pompomtom at 2:22 AM on September 4, 2015


Where I sit, and your jurisdiction may be different, discriminating in the provision of goods or services on the basis of race is illegal.

Unless the discrimination amounts to decisions based upon evidence about race derived from databases and models and algorithms, right? Because that's the context in which you're saying talking about discrimination is worse than useless.
posted by XMLicious at 3:36 AM on September 4, 2015


Yes, someone is forcing you to participate in Facebook: your friends and family are. Unless you want to be a hermit. Illusion of choice.

If you don't follow the crowd, you get left behind. You can't just fall back on traditional forms of communication. That's not where the conversations are taking place.

This is what happens when we privatize our basic social infrastructure.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 4:39 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I really don't understand why one of the many projects to create a free and open-source social networking protocol haven't taken off yet. It doesn't seem like an insurmountable challenge—we've already done it, in a rudimentary form, with stuff like email and RSS.

I suppose that, in part, it's not a technical issue but one of critical mass: even Google+, with all the resources at Google's disposal, couldn't upend Facebook. Everyone's already on Facebook, so you're realllly pushing the boulder uphill to get people to start using something different. It's the same reason that eBay is still the giant in online auctions, even though their site is a sprawling shantytown from 2006: launching a better auction service isn't enough to compete. You have to launch a service that's so much better that it makes up for eBay's huge advantage in sheer number of potential buyers and sellers. It's a phenomenon that affects all closed communication platforms.

But that's exactly why an open protocol, once we figure out a way to make one viable, would be so great: it doesn't lock you into one service the way Facebook's walled garden does, so this phenomenon would no longer be a factor. And closed services like Facebook don't survive when the garden walls come down. They'd either have to adopt the same protocol, and start answering to people's demands for a service whose data practices aren't creepy as all fuck—or die.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:20 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I suppose working out 'why' a neural network has put you in a certain bucket could be difficult

I was saving this for an FPP, but one of my old professors is doing some really interesting work in this area.
posted by Itaxpica at 6:37 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


>an open protocol, once we figure out a way to make one viable

Just a small matter of programming, and universal social acceptance.

In the same way that freedom of the press is guaranteed for those with a printing press, freedom of social networking is only guaranteed to those willing to run a server. While my friends might have a higher propensity to run servers than the average, I would miss interactions from those who don't or can't run one. Keeping a server running securely is hard work (and hardly free), and the more interesting one's data becomes, the more it becomes of interest to those would would meddle with it.

The other difficulties faced by distributed social media include critical mass (enough interesting friends need to be on it to attract other interesting friends) and keeping funding (imaginary VC question: "Help me understand the value proposition of allowing any user of this service to up and take their data off to a competing service?"). Neither are trivial.

You could really screw up redlining by having lots of friends in different countries. I'm sure Facebook would find tons of value in navigating exchange rates and different disclosure laws worldwide. Of course, they could just take the Ashley Madison approach of making shit up, selling it as a service, and hoping their algorithms are opaque enough that no-one finds out ...
posted by scruss at 7:05 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


You don't have to run your own server, any more than you have to run your own email server. An open protocol would allow many Facebooks to spring up and compete, all communicating transparently with each other over the same protocol. Just like email.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:26 AM on September 4, 2015


This is what happens when we privatize our basic social infrastructure.

Now I kind of want the US Postal Service to roll out an alternative social networking site.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:42 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


To expedite your credit review, stand up and say "McDonald's"!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:21 AM on September 4, 2015


I suppose working out 'why' a neural network has put you in a certain bucket could be difficult

Do you think google and facebook knew the exact IP #'s of the banned wikipedia shills before the banning?
posted by bukvich at 8:26 AM on September 4, 2015


You don't have to run your own server, any more than you have to run your own email server. An open protocol would allow many Facebooks to spring up and compete, all communicating transparently with each other over the same protocol. Just like email.

The problem is that, despite what many people believe, the internet trends towards, not away from, monopoly.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:31 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd have to go back over my FDIC compliance manuals to be sure, but I'm pretty sure this would be super duper illegal somehow.

This would be be a fair lending issue, ECOA/FHA.

I can't see any banks actually using this. It could too easily result in disparate treatment (discriminatory results without discriminatory intent). All it takes is two very similar loan applications with similar credit histories and income where the only important difference is that one is a member of protected class (and got declined) and one is not (and was approved) and BAM! fair lending violation.

Unless they have MOUNTAINS of data that backs it up, "his friends all have shitty credit" won't be a valid reason to turn down an application.

It's more likely that the credit bureaus would incorporate it into their calculation of a credit score. Analyzing how different data affects a credit score and to what degree is basically what they do. Banks mostly just look at the credit score and payment history (especially for credit types similar to what is being applied for) and there are objective requirements for both (like, more than one 30-day late on a mortgage account within the last 12-months might result in a different LTV cap or a turndown). Those standards are objective on purpose to prevent the bank from getting a fair lending violation.
posted by VTX at 2:22 PM on September 4, 2015




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