Facebook Is Not The Great Predictor Of Creditworthiness It Was Hoped To Be

Not so long ago, a new batch of lenders got the idea that they could gauge a consumer’s credit risk from the data collected by Facebook. The social media company even patented a system for how to use data on an applicant’s Facebook friends to determine whether or not they were worth offering a loan to. And yet, so far, nothing seems to have come of these concepts.

The Wall Street Journal reports that lenders who had once been keen on the concept of using Facebook data to evaluate borrowers have soured on the idea, thanks to regulatory restrictions, and recent changes in the data that Facebook shares with third parties.

While third party developers had previously been able to easily access information about users’ photos, hometown, political affiliation, work and education histories, and relationship status, that stuff is now pretty much off limits to outside developers.

If a Facebook profile is public, a lender could choose to look at that profile and find out this information, but that’s not efficient when trying to understand behavior trends among millions of users.

Online lender ZestFinance, founded by a former chief information officer at Google, uses a wide variety of non-traditional data points to assess borrowers, but tells the Journal it never used Facebook info.

“We’ve determined it’s creepy to use social media,” the company’s founder explains.

Likewise, the CEO of online lender Kabbage says that his company hasn’t really seen any value in learning “Who your social circle is, or whether you play ‘Mafia Wars.'”

Which appears to jive with a recent study from the National Consumer Law Center which found that credit reports created using online data are remarkably inaccurate.

Beyond the issues of creepiness and inaccuracy, there’s a larger problem for Facebook-based credit tests: regulation.

The Federal Trade Commission has warned that, by law, some data brokers that compile “non-traditional information, including social media information,” may be consider consumer reporting agencies, meaning they are subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

As such, they would be required to, among other things, maintain reasonable procedures to verify who its users are and that the reported information would be used for a permissible purpose; to verify that those reports are reports; and to provide a user notice to any person that purchased its consumer reports.

In fact, the FTC has already cracked down on some companies for running afoul of these rules. Most notably, back in 2012, it slapped Spokeo with an $800,000 penalty for failing to live up to its obligations.