From the moment we’re born, we’re ranked.
In the delivery room we get an Apgar score. Doctors give us percentile rankings for height and weight. Schools test us constantly. FICO scores measure our creditworthiness. But you’re ranked another way you’ve probably never heard of: Secret “marketing scores” gleaned from thousands of data points are being used by a wide range of companies to determine your health-insurance rates or whether you get a mortgage or a job.
“Marketing scores are being used for all sorts of reasons beyond marketing,” says Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Policy Forum, a San Diego-based advocacy group. “Scores in themselves aren’t bad, but secret scores present a problem.”
These are called “alternative consumer scores” and companies calculate them by amassing large amounts of data through a variety of sources. Like credit scores, they offer insight into consumer behavior about your bill-paying history or propensity to rack up debt. Unlike credit scores, which fall under protections offered by the Fair Credit Reporting Act or the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, these scores are not federally regulated and are built through purchases in retail stores, online shopping and surveys, loyalty cards as well as social-media posts and photographs.
Some of it is considered structured data like your age, sex, marital status and address, the kind of information you give a credit-card carrier or a bank. Increasingly, however, unstructured data, the things that can’t be so readily classified like photos and images, emails, and Facebook posts, are working their way into complicated analytics that will flag a merchant about your shoe fetish or a health insurer about your smoking habit. It’s a huge piece of the “big” in Big Data.
That means data collected on you, whether through surveys you took, tweets you shared or complaints you made to a call center, are intertwined and parsed through sophisticated algorithms to give government and businesses a deeper look at you. What comes out is a profile of you that could include such nuances as how likely it is that you will buy certain products, take medications on time or run a fraud ring.