This morning I heard something a bit more ludicrous than usual on the radio: that Facebook had filed a patent allowing banks to use your friends’ credit scores to see if you could receive a loan. A small amount of sleuthing determined that this is an actual thing, as this article from Fortune shows. You can also click here to read the text of the patent filed.
While there is no guarantee that the hypotheticals in the patent will ever happen (there are consumer and privacy laws in place that would make it difficult and invite litigation should Facebook begin mining your friends’ credit scores), this patent is nevertheless alarming. Why should my friends’ credit rating have anything to do with my ability to use and pay back a loan? Do I need to go around screening my friends, and if they don’t at least have a 700 score, we can’t be friends anymore? What happens if Tumblr and Twitter get on this patent – am I going to be held responsible for my anonymous followers? Could celebrities face losing their homes because their eight million followers have a shitty credit score? Could groups of angry people flood a politicians’ Facebook page with thousands of dollars of debt and bankrupt them?
I don’t even understand why this would be a clause in the patent, especially since its original intent seems to be about verifying connections to prevent spam and harassment (The summary reads, “The invention provides a method of authorizing transmission of content to an individual as a way to filter out unwanted communication such as SPAM or content that the individual might find to be offensive, and a method of authenticating individuals for access to content or service that makes the content or service available to more users while limiting access to potentially abusive users of the content or service.”). How do we go from preventing harassment to allowing banks to check our friends’ credit scores without their consent? Is Facebook going to rewrite their agreement clause for the umpteenth time to make it so that logging in constitutes an agreement that they can access our credit scores and thereby force our “consent”?
This clause is really unacceptable and should be removed. Our Facebook profiles are meant for us as individuals to connect and close the distance. They’re meant for us to send updates to our friends, fans, and constituents. They’re not meant for outside parties to come in and judge us worthy. What next? If too many of our friends have been arrested, we can’t get jobs in certain fields? If I post too many “problematic” articles, my employer can fire me, even if I was in privacy mode and it has nothing to do with the company? Clauses like this will either spell the end of social media or the beginning of a totalitarian state. Either way, it wouldn’t be good.