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New: Stevens asks feds to investigate ‘secret’ consumer scores

By: - February 5, 2020 3:52 pm

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U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills) is requesting that a federal agency investigate the shadowy practice of “secret consumer scores,” which large corporations are increasingly using to collect private information about consumers and determine how companies should interact with them.

Stevens wrote a letter to Gene Dodaro, U.S. comptroller general and head of the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO), on Jan. 28 requesting that his office look into the matter.

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens | Ken Coleman

Not much is known about these “secret consumer scores.” They are composed of hundreds of data points, quietly collected from users based on their online behavior; these data points are then used to create a score for each consumer that companies can then use – without your knowledge or consent – to predict future behavior and make other assessments.

Unlike credit scores, which are provided by consumer reporting agencies and are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), these “secret consumer scores” are not publicly available and many do not even know they exist.

Also unlike credit scores, there are no federal regulations in place to ensure their accuracy or give consumers the right to view and take steps to adjust them. In other words, there is little transparency. Stevens takes issue with this lack of regulation and argues that more steps need to be taken to understand the breadth of these scores so the government can take appropriate action.

In the letter, Stevens writes that she is concerned about companies using private information in unfair and discriminatory ways. She is also unsettled by the prospect of companies having access to consumers’ private health history and other extremely personal information without their knowledge.

“… There are concerns that scores may be discriminatory or unfair—based on underlying factors of things like race, religion, gender, or marital status—or may contain private and sensitive data about things like a consumer’s health history and status,” Stevens writes. “Yet unlike credit scores, these consumer scores are both unregulated and kept secret from consumers.”

Stevens’ request for further information about the consumer scores includes:

  • What the marketplace of consumer scores looks like
  • What kinds of scores exist
  • What types of businesses create and sell them
  • What information is used in their creation
  • What types of private sector entities purchase and use these scores
  • The ways in which the scores are used
  • The extent to which federal and state agencies use these scores and for what purposes
  • The extent to which federal law and regulation govern the creation, storage and use of these types of consumer scores
  • What concerns exist with regard to issues such as the transparency, privacy, bias, accuracy and security of these scores

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).