Secret Surveillance Scores

What Americans Need to Know

Companies have been collecting your data for a long time, and they are using it quietly to create rating scores of consumer profiles. There are consumer profitability scores, job security scores, churn scores, fraud scores and even medication scores – which track how accurately you take your pills. All these rating measurements tell companies what kind of customer you are, what they can charge you, and even if they will honor a product return.

Walmart, Home Depot, and Verizon have been questioned about using secret surveillance scores but remain tight lipped.

As of June 2019, a consumer advocacy group submitted a plea to the Federal Trade Commission to stop secret surveillance scores.

“Those scores, according to the group, are generated based on data about consumers collected by “a shadowy group of privacy-busting firms that operate in dark recesses of the American marketplace.”

“This petition highlights a disturbing evolution in how consumers’ data is deployed against them,” leaders of the group “#Represent” write in a 38-page complaint to the FTC”. “Major American corporations, including online and retail businesses, employers and landlords are using Secret Surveillance Scores to charge some people higher prices for the same product than others, to provide some people with better customer services than others, to deny some consumers the right to purchase services or buy or return products while allowing others to do so and even to deny people housing and jobs,”

Scores Defined:

Consumer profitability score: Using factors like your income, one company sells a score which predicts how likely you will be to pay your debts. The higher your score, the more likely you are to be a “profitable” customer (and a target of marketers).

Churn score: Many companies, such as wireless carriers and cable companies, create scores that predict how likely you are to take your business to a competitor. Get deemed a flight risk, and you may be offered a better deal. On the flip side, get labeled a stable customer and you may end up paying higher rates.

Job security score: One company sells a score that uses employment and unemployment data, economic trends and forecasts to predict the probability that you will lose your job, and as a result is not able to pay your bills.

Medication adherence score: Do you always follow your doctor’s orders? Or do you skip a pill here and there? One firm sells a score that predicts the likelihood you will follow a prescription plan, based on factors ranging from age to home ownership, that is designed to let pharmacies and insurers know when a patient is at risk and needs a medication reminder.

As long as the score does not use your own protected health information, it would not be protected by privacy laws.

Fraud scores: Widely used by retailers, credit card issuers and other companies, fraud scores indicate whether a consumer may be posing as someone else or attempting to perpetuate a fraud of some sort.

Custom scores: Some retailers create their own custom scores using sophisticated analysis of their massive databases of customer purchases and demographic information. The most famous example: Target’s pregnancy predictor score, which used a consumer’s shopping history to predict that she was pregnant even before she had told family members.

Law enforcement scores: A variety of government scores are used for safety, anti-terrorism and other law enforcement purposes, but very little is known about how this information is used, the report stated.

These practices are deceptive and consumers at the very least, should be fully informed on companies utilizing internal rating systems and understand how a score is formulated. Unfortunately, that is easier said, than done.