After online $h1tstorm German credit bureau drops Facebook research project

The German credit rating company Schufa announced this week to start a research project analyzing citizen data posted on Facebook. The goal was to triangulate Facebook status updates with credit ratings. Schufa, a corporation that works for large credit card companies, banks, merchants, etc., collects information about their clients’ clients (you and I) and basically rates their credit in order to protect their clients from loan defaults.

Schufa had the ‘brilliant’ idea to hire the Hasso-Plattner Institute to conduct a research project using Facebook information about their clients’ loan holders to assess whether this data can be used for accurate prediction of an account holder’s payment potential and truthful asset disclosure. Data from Facebook, Twitter, Xing, Google Street View, but also real estate sites, such as ImmoScout24 were mentioned as potential sources for insights on assets, real estate, etc. Status updates – whether ironic or honest – were planned to be used to derive insights about every citizens’ discloser practice, payback potential, and generally their credit worthiness and soundness.

The idea went public this week and Schufa was immediately hit with a so-called online “$h1tstorm” (an English word that is to my knowledge only used in the German speaking countries to describe online flash mobs). The magnitude of the criticism was so huge, that they just announced to withdraw their project idea and are no longer pursuing this type of Facebook data analysis.

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About Ines Mergel

I am Full Professor of Public Administration at the Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Konstanz, Germany. Previously, I served as Assistant and then Associate Professor (with tenure) at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY. In my research, I focus on informal social networks in the public sector and the adoption and diffusion of digital service innovations in government organizations. I teach classes on social media management, digital government, public management, and social network analysis.

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