All that data Facebook has been gathering on you and your friends could someday be used to approve -- or deny -- your application for a loan.
Facebook was just granted an updated technology patent for “authorization and authentication based on an individual's social network.” This innocent-sounding technology can no doubt be applied in a multitude of ways, many of them benign. But one troubling use of the technology consists of assisting lenders in discriminating against a borrower based on his or her social network connections.
The patent application explains that a lender can use the technology to examine the credit ratings of members of the social network of the individual who is applying for a loan. If the average credit rating of the social network reaches a minimum, pre-defined level, the lender moves forward with the loan process. If the average credit score is too low, the loan application is rejected.
The new technology raises concerns about potential unjust bias, but banks would most likely use it as an additional factor in the loan approval process, not as an end-all metric. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act imposes strict guidelines as to what factors creditors can use when determining whether to approve a loan. It’s unclear if Facebook’s new technology falls under the criteria the federal law defines – things like income, expenses, debt and credit history.
Another fear involves predatory lenders. People rejected for loans through this process would make a nice customer list for unscrupulous financial operators.
Some of the less worrisome uses of the technology include preventing spam email and inappropriate content and improving the accuracy of searches. At this point, it’s not clear how Facebook plans to implement the new technology. Let’s hope the social networking giant stays on the sunny side of the street on this one.
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