Have you ever applied for a credit card?
A loan? A big one like a mortgage?
If so, you know that an ever more efficient (so they say) rating system, based on a myriad of data, is crunched through ever more complex algorithms in order to get you a quicker answer and faster access to your spending limits and at the same time to better protect the lender from default, fraud and the losses that poor human judgment can bring about.
Once, you applied at the bank or credit union, in person, filled out the background data, provided a few references, waited a week or so and, voila, you were in the money or not.
Today, you apply online, provide key data and the bots deploy to search and sweep in a digital quest following your trail (and there is a trail) and feed the maw of the ever-hungry, data-crunching algorithm and soon you are in the money or not.
So far so good.
Yet, we had a credit crisis that took down monolithic financial institutions; we continue to read about the fear of big bank losses due to poor vetting and overextension of credit and, of course, poor judgment still seems to be in the headlines on a fairly regular basis.
All in a day's work for Big Data.
In fact, I have heard from a few banks that for certain loans and such they have re-instituted the look-them-in-the-eye test -- a gut check of face-to-face evaluation -- in and of itself, as fallible as anything else, but linked to digital data, a good backstop and smart fail-safe system check.
But that's not my point.
I have written much about the digibabble surrounding Big Data and the ensuing surprise factor that more and more seems to be an outcome on blind reliance to its promise of predictive perfection.
Frankly, I am way more concerned about the addition of other personal data to the credit equation.
To that end:
I call your attention to a recent article in The Atlantic by Frank Pasquale... "Scores of Scores: How Companies Are Reducing Consumers to Single Numbers."
Pasquale's fear is not of credit scoring -- a good thing -- or other vertical scoring -- also potentially good and useful -- nor is it paranoia of "Big Data"... again important and a boon to our world.
His fear is that: "America's obsession with scoring has gone far beyond credit."
China is already mixing credit scores with political views. Imagine the impact that kind of social scoring could have on a society where only those who agree with the powerful elite can buy a house or start a business.
What if you were penalized for what your friends thought and posted? Think about that -- you have a good friend, from childhood, who has a divergent view from yours about the state of the world, but innocent friendship trumps politics (sometimes) and yet you are denied your new car or home.
This is not the stuff of George Orwell, folks... this is becoming very real and has some terrifying possibilities... as Pasquale points out:
Policymakers should discourage the expansion of credit scoring into life scoring -- or, at the very least, require disclosure of all the data and algorithms behind the scores to the people being scored.
There needs to be a recognition that scoring can be 'highly reductionist, atomizing complex, contingent relationships into simplified, one-dimensional measures that cannot provide a full and multidimensional picture' of individuals. It's not necessarily an innovation to celebrate. Rather, it can be a prelude to the discrimination that's rightly condemned.
And, I call to your attention Peeple -- an almost app -- that still might find the light of day.
There is so much good that scoring in some categories can do -- from disease prevention to employee reliability to better loan granting -- but mix and match them to create a bigger view and I'd posit we create more of a Frankenstein than a utopian model.
And, even Google likes to look data in the eye...
So here is a quote -- of sorts -- from Charles Dickens (but the text was shortened from a story, although the context is true and reflects his view of the world then and I'd be ready to bet today as well...) Listen:
Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another to be brave and true. Charles Dickens
I'd say he has hit it square on -- at some point we have to look life, each other, our credit ratings, in the eye, face-to-face, if not, we run the risk of a world controlled by hidden algorithms that reduce us all to one dimension.
And for all of us marketers, there is no greater threat to success and no quicker path to failure than turning our clients and customers and prospects into mere scores in a computer program.
As much as we can fool ourselves into believing we have somehow dimensionalized life by assigning us all scores based on torrents of Big Data, I'd bet on the companies and brands that valued real people with real needs and real unpredictability.
What do you think?