It is probably not news that many landlords, hiring managers or college admissions counselors scope out our social media accounts to perform background checks on an individual. However, one start-up company is now taking this one step further by making use of algorithmic models to carry out social media audits of our networking accounts, with aims to “take a deep dive into private social media profiles”.
The UK start-up, Score Assured, has recently launched its first product; Tenant Assured, a software capable of combing through your social media profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn to produce a report to unearth details on a potential tenant’s credit-worthiness. The ‘personality reports’ aims to give insights into an applicant’s five main personality traits: extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.
A sample Tenant Assured profile report. (Source: The Verge)
A landlord would be able to send their potential tenant a request through Tenant Assured requiring them to grant full access to their various social media accounts before the lease application would be approved. From there, Tenant Assured is capable of sifting through all previous posts, conversation threads and private messages to highlight any areas of concern. Based on frequency of keyword mentions, or even those ‘check-ins’ at your local watering hole could affect the outcome of the report in terms of your personality, attitude towards spending and likely creditworthiness, a supposed indication of how reliable a tenant you will be.
Naturally, many of these basis for ratings are totally misleading. Life events (eg. Giving birth or getting married) can be used to draw conclusions on an individual, as well as how often a tenant may use keywords like “staying in”, “no money” or “poor” could damage their credit score.
These distorted sources for calculating one’s “financial stress level” was exemplified when a couple of reporters from Telegraph Money decided to take the Tenant Assured plunge. Being money journalists who frequently report on “loans”, the trigger word became a concern for financial stress when it is used as an indicator to calculate the overall score in the report. Clearly, the content of social media posts could easily be taken out of context as a personal struggle for better finances.
‘Personality reports’ on a potential tenant. (Source: Washington Post)
Caitlin Dewey, a reporter from Washington Post who decided to test out the service related her experience with the “creepy digest” about her online self.
“My personal tenant report includes a list of my closest friends and interests, a percentage breakdown of my personality traits, a list of every time I’ve tweeted the words ‘loan’ and ‘pregnant,’ and the algorithm’s confidence that I’ll pay my rent consistently,” she wrote.
Caitlin Dewey’s Tenant Assured profile drawn from her Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn & Instagram data.
(Source: Washington Post)
In contrast to credit reports which under federal law may be requested at every 12 months, the Tenant Assured final profile reports does not allow for the tenants themselves to have any access to view their own ratings, instead going straight to the landlord, which leaves them in the dark from defending any misleading data dredged up from their tenant profiles.
“If you’re living a normal life, then, frankly, you have nothing to worry about,” stated Steve Thornhill, co-founder and director of Score Assured.
However, The Washington Post has pointed out that some of the information collected by Tenant Assured in fact has a protected status under the US housing discrimination law, under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, although Thornbill argued that this was something not to be of concern as the report produced was only a one-time file, not a constant surveillance.
For each Tenant Assured report, the start-up charges landlords, agencies and letting agents £9.99, although discounts are applicable given large volumes of tenants. Any future reports on the same tenant would still incur service fees.
Thornbill admits while keyword-scraping can be a crude metric by itself, quite incredulously he exclaimed that the information attained through the service was meant to be used alongside the landlord’s own judgement.
“All we can do is give them the information. It’s up to landlords to do the right thing”.
Thornbill also stated that: “People continue more and more to expect their private data to become something of value that they—can’t sell—but can trade for something. We see it as a way of helping people get something they want”.
Tenant Assured is also expected to offer specialised versions of their service by the end of July such as Recruit Assured for use by employers, HR recruitment or other versions for online dating.
As of now, these form of services may still be an opt-in for landlords and agencies, but if it became popular, it could well be exploited by those in power to gain access to private and personal data.
What is your opinion on the checking out of potential tenants on social media?
 Score Assured
 The Washington Post
 The Verge