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British Startup Strip Mines Renters' Private Social Media For Landlords (washingtonpost.com) 371

Rick Zeman writes: Creepy British startup Score Assured has brought the power of "big data" to plumb new depths. In order to rent from landlords who use their services, potential renters are "...required to grant it full access to your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and/or Instagram profiles. From there, Tenant Assured scrapes your site activity, including entire conversation threads and private messages; runs it through natural language processing and other analytic software; and finally, spits out a report that catalogs everything from your personality to your 'financial stress level.'" This "stress level" is a deep dive to (allegedly) determine whether the potential renter will pay their bills using vague indicators like "online retail social logins and frequency of social logins used for leisure activities." To make it worse, the company turns over to the landlords' indicators that the landlords aren't legally allowed to consider (age, race, pregnancy status), counting on the landlords to "do the right thing." As if this isn't abusive enough, the candidates are not allowed to see nor challenge their report, unlike with credit reports. Landlords first, employers next...and then? As the co-founder says, "People will give up their privacy to get something they want" and, evidently, that includes a place to live and a job. In late May, an apartment building in Salt Lake City told tenants living in the complex to "like" its Facebook page or they will be in breach of their lease.
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British Startup Strip Mines Renters' Private Social Media For Landlords

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  • Not normal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gsslay ( 807818 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @05:26AM (#52287073)

    “If you’re living a normal life,” Thornhill reassures me, “then, frankly, you have nothing to worry about.”"

    The definition of "normal" is not for this company, or my landlord, to decide.

    "Tenant Assured doesn’t give users any way to view their ratings or dispute misleading data."

    I think Tenant Assured might find that European law has quite a different view on that.

    But I am happy to create an empty Facebook profile and share it with my landlord. I'll even put a post up there about paying my bills on time, and getting an early night. No other data in there? I'm sorry, I don't use Facebook that much, and it's not compulsory to use Twitter, so I don't have anything to share with you there.

    • Re:Not normal (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sique ( 173459 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @05:51AM (#52287155) Homepage
      I guess that there are many other problems Score Assured is facing. I don't know what they mean with "full access to your profile", but for instance, for Facebook this is a breach of contract. The Terms of Service explicitely state in chapter 4.8, that you are not allowed to do so. The other sites have similar rules.

      So how long a company will stay afloat whose business it is to get people to violate contracts?

    • Re:Not normal (Score:5, Insightful)

      by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @06:13AM (#52287215)

      >I think Tenant Assured might find that European law has quite a different view on that.

      Well it seems rather a lot of British people would love to get European Law to cease mattering in the UK - and I am willing to bet this company and many others like them are really hoping to just avoid prosecution long enough for the referendum to happen and legalize their business. Afterwards, the picture changes, they can actually have laws made to mandate people use them "The landlord protection act of 2017" or some shit because all they would need to do is bribe some David Cameron cronies, a group of people who are imminently bribable and and rather cheaper than those Belgians.

      • Sod "european law", Britains Data Protection Act already makes this an issue and would continue to do so even in the event of a Leave vote in two weeks time.

      • I don't want to start some huge side discussion about the EU referendum here, but I'll just mention that the UK's own data protection legislation already covers subject access requests and rights to correct data that is wrong. There is no particular reason to expect that to change whatever the referendum result later this month turns out to be. Even if we vote to leave, it will surely be a few years before things get separated out and any major changes to the legal system get made, as the government will be

    • Re:Not normal (Score:4, Interesting)

      by KozmoStevnNaut ( 630146 ) <henrikstevn&gmail,com> on Friday June 10, 2016 @07:02AM (#52287379)

      The definition of "normal" is not for this company, or my landlord, to decide.

      Yeah, this is extremely chilling.

      There are plenty of pictures of me shared all around from various concerts where I've stumbled around in drunken stupors generally being a filthy animal, wearing my finest heavy metal studded/patched denim vest getup. In fact that's probably 90% of what's on my Facebook account, I mostly use it to keep track of who's going to which events.

      But I don't bring any of that shit home with me, that's absolutely none of my landlord's business. As far as he's concerned, I have a normal 9-5 job in IT, I'm a member of the board at my apartment complex and I participate in all the social and DIY activities that go on. And that's all he should be concerned about.

      Now, luckily I own my apartment instead of renting it, so that simplifies things a lot. But I would honestly rather live in a damn cardboard box than put myself through the complete invasion of privacy that Score Assured provides.

  • Probably Illegal (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tx ( 96709 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @05:28AM (#52287083) Journal

    Wow. I'm not on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram, but I do have a twitter account. Which I only use for following porn stars and for trolling. Guess I won't be renting via any agency that uses this service ;).

    In all honesty, I highly doubt this will stand up. In connection with employers asking for social media passwords of employees;

    A spokesman for the ICO [Information Commissioner's Office] said: "The UK Data Protection Act clearly says that organisations shouldn't hold excessive information about individuals, and it's questionable why they would need that information in the first place." [...] "In the UK, however, it would potentially put employers in breach of the Data Protection Act because it would constitute "excessive" information about an individual, the ICO indicated. "We would have very serious concerns if this practice was to become the norm in the UK," (article [theguardian.com]).

    If that's true for employers, I'd say it's way more true for landlords and letting agencies, so I'd expect the ICO to have a few things to say on this. Seems like a probable violation of the Data Protection Act.

    • There's no "seems" about it. DPA applies to anybody with data about anybody else. Yes, this includes the authorities, but with exemptions because trrism etc.

    • Re:Probably Illegal (Score:5, Informative)

      by Xest ( 935314 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @06:59AM (#52287369)

      Yes, simply put, what this organisation is claiming to do is illegal, however, judging by the amount of Lorem Ipsum on the site, the lack of any pricing et. al. I think it's highly likely that this whole thing is a scam, or just a snake oil peddler.

      I work in the fraud/credit industry and can categorically state that you cannot simply just do what these people are claiming to do without undergoing serious compliance efforts. First and foremost is the fact that they're engaging in financial services by including credit risk worthiness, and this would require them to register with the UK's Financial Conduct Authority, however there is no registration at the address on the website as a financial services company:

      https://register.fca.org.uk/sh... [fca.org.uk]

      This is despite the fact that they MUST acquire permission to operate in this industry from the FCA and undergo necessary compliance checks, see here:

      https://www.the-fca.org.uk/aut... [the-fca.org.uk]

      The relevant listing is "providing credit information services".

      The company is however genuinely registered so isn't a complete hoax:

      https://beta.companieshouse.go... [companieshouse.gov.uk]

      Beyond the financial aspect of professing to evaluate people's financial worthiness amongst other criteria the amount of detail they're collecting would appear to place them in clear breach of the data protection act in general also.

      In recent years the reality is that there is actually a lot of oversight in the UK of companies providing financial services, in large part as a result of the excesses of the 00s and the mis-selling, the financial crisis et. al., the predatory payday loans companies that profited from people etc. For precisely this reason you cannot simply start a company and start bandying about financial data like credit risk as these guys profess to with absolutely no oversight.

      Anyone in their right mind would steer clear of this company both as an investor, and as a customer. Again, if it is doing what it says it is doing, then it is operating outside the law.

  • Lorem Ipsum (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jobsagoodun ( 669748 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @05:29AM (#52287087)

    Has this startup started up?? (or is it just crap at rendering itself in Chrome?) - to quote it's website: Clever Tenant Referencing "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vestibulum at consectetur sem, eget tempus lacus. Curabitur at cursus est. Suspendisse lectus lorem, porttitor sodales porttitor ac, dapibus eu lorem. Nullam in sodales dolor."

  • We might need to invent new insults for these bootlickers. And that's what they really are: Bootlickers. They're facilitating the worst sort of landlord and employer abuse to grub some money for themselves. "Swine" does not seem a strong enough word.

  • To rent this flat you must own an Amazon Echo and grant us access to everything you've said to Alexa?

  • Whatabout Landlords (Score:5, Interesting)

    by polyp2000 ( 444682 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @05:40AM (#52287115) Homepage Journal
    Glad I no-longer rent. But my experience with bad landlords left me wondering why there isnt something like this but in favour of tennants who wish to check if their prospective landlord isnt an arse.
    • by cryptolemur ( 1247988 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @06:03AM (#52287183)
      Because a service like that would be sued out of existence or forbidden in the next "free" trade "agreement", since it might hinder profits of somebody.
    • by ooloorie ( 4394035 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @07:09AM (#52287409)

      You can find many property management companies and related businesses on Yelp and other reviews. They are usually also covered in news sources, you can find out past and current lawsuits against them, and get information about their financials. So, you actually have a lot of sources of information.

      Furthermore, the reason landlords have become very cautious is because (1) they are letting you use something valuable and you can do a lot of damage to it, and (2) laws in many places make it difficult to evict renters even when they misbehave.

      • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @11:50AM (#52289499)
        Gonna reply to the anon responses here instead of one at a time.

        False. Most terrible landlords change their brand name every 6 months.

        Then don't rent from a landlord whose management company is 6 months old. A good landlord will usually be using a management company that's been around for decades, and has a long track history. A good landlord will be successful enough that he has multiple properties, and finds it easier to hire a management company to handle the day-to-day operations. If the landlord is running it all himself, he's more likely to own just the one property, which increases the risk to the tenant of getting a looney.

        The reason renters have become very cautious is because (1) Landlords don't give a shit about the living conditions on offer (broken water, broken heating, animal and insect infestations, insecure buildings, illegal wiring, asbestos, etc)

        Your and OP's statements are not contradictory. Both landlords and tenants need to be cautious about whom they get into a contract with. Ideally, the realtors who show the properties would do the legwork of background checks on both the landlord and the prospective tenant, since they're the ones in the best position to build up a database of landlord and tenant turnover history. But since that industry is a sham monopoly (uniform pricing) which charges a huge amount disproportionate to services provided, it's fallen upon the landlords and tenants to gather that information themselves.

        OP is spot-on that landlords need to do background checks (not as extensive as in TFA, but some background checking) because laws have made it extremely difficult to get rid of a problem tenant. A contractor friend of mine would (in addition to his regular contracting work) buy a second home, fix it up, rent it out while he placed it on the market and waited for it to sell, then do it again. The third or fourth time he did this, he decided to skip the background check (his wife and kids pleaded with him to pay the $500, but he decided it was a waste of money). The tenant he ended up getting was a professional squatter. As soon as he'd been living there long enough to qualify under the state's definition of residence, he immediately stopped paying rent, and used every trick in the book (filing court papers on the last date, filing for every extension possible) to drag out the eviction process as long as possible. After more than a year with no rental income, my friend's savings had been drained, the bank foreclosed on both the rental house and his personal home, and his credit was ruined. (He'd bought a bigger personal home than he could afford with just his contracting work, since fixing up houses and selling them provided such a good profit. But with his money and credit tied up in the house occupied by the squatter, he couldn't buy another house to fix up.) He now lives in a rental apartment, and he's still working as a contractor even though he's getting close to 70 because he needs that income.

        and (2) Even though landlords typically charge 50% of the typical tenant's net income, they still gouge for brand new things that aren't listed in the contract and were assumed to be free by all tenants after moving in (Air conditioning surcharge, extra costs for parking, etc).

        1) For your own financial well-being, you should never pay more than 33% of your gross income as rent (or mortgage + taxes + insurance). If the only housing you can find exceeds 33%, then you are either looking in too expensive a neighborhood, or you need to be more aggressive in demanding higher pay before accepting a job. (For the income levels you're talking about, this is probably in the neighborhood of 40% of net income.)

        2) Rents are determined by the market. If the rent is excessive, that means the demand for housing in the area is much greater than the supply, and it becomes "worth it" for developers to build more

  • Legislation time (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Oxygen99 ( 634999 ) on Friday June 10, 2016 @05:46AM (#52287141)
    I wonder if it's time to look at legislation to prevent discrimination by social media. Housing is too important to be allocated on whether you were a dick on Twatterbook a decade ago. It's not even like you can withdraw.

    "No social media presence? Well, I'm sorry sir, but we just don't know who you are..."
    • If your knee-jerk reaction is "legislation time" every time a company misbehaves, then "housing allocation" is pretty much what you end up with: a small number of politically connected, powerful megabusinesses running everything--if you're lucky--or state-owned housing otherwise.

      Housing otherwise is still supposed to be a free market; that is, buyers and renters voluntarily agree with sellers and owners to engage in transactions. When the seller/owner is a jerk, your best choice is to walk away, not to call

  • by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Friday June 10, 2016 @06:05AM (#52287195) Homepage

    All that the (prospective) tenant needs to do is to submit a Subject access request [ico.org.uk] (possibly paying £10) and they have to give all of the information within 40 days. Certainly for people in England (and it is a British company), I don't know what happens if someone from the USA would try it.

    Trouble is that many people will just hand over their passwords and forget about it.

  • I don't. Nor do I have most of the others.

    • I suppose this is an opportunity for another startup to provide 'clean' social media profiles for a fee. You give them some pictures or yourself and your pets, they fill in some fake vacation photos and some astroturf friends/followers. I'd be surprised if teens these days didn't run parallel accounts: one their parents know about, one they don't.
  • I don't have any commentary on the subject matter, but I can say it took me a full minute to parse this awful headline. First off, I've never heard, nor can I easily find, reference to "strip mine" with regard to data. After that it isn't clear which nouns and adjectives go together. For instance, I was surprised to hear that there is specialized "Social Media For Landlords" until after a few seconds I realised that wasn't what they were getting at. I tend to give a lot of leeway to typos and grammar mista
    • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

      I've never heard, nor can I easily find, reference to "strip mine" with regard to data.

      Washington Post [washingtonpost.com] had a better title of "Creepy startup will help landlords, employers and online dates strip-mine intimate data from your Facebook page", but also used strip mine data.

      Strip mining is a very intrusive process that removes the easily visible stuff right at the surface and digs deep to get to the valuable material underneath after sorting through it, and ultimately leaves a giant ugly hole. Seems like that

    • Given those number of characters (the Slashdot limit) how would you have written it?

  • ... Maybe? Perhaps?

    Honestly, I don't get it.

    I once had a landlord who specifically required a key to have access to the appartment in case I left a candle burning or something. Apparently he'd had some experience along those lines in the past that had resulted in a fire. if, so, btw., that would've been entirely the fault of the tenant and the tenants liability to pay damages and whatnot.

    I stroke out those lines in the contract. He said no way would he sign it that way. I respectfully declined and he had to

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      In some places that is normal but it's also normal that if they use that key without cause they know they are in deep legal shit.
    • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

      Every apartment I lived in during my younger years the landlord retained a key to the property. They were all apartment communities in the United States. Lease language as well as case law is pretty well establish that the tenant has a right to privacy, but the landlord also has a right to access the property for emergencies, maintenance, or to show the property to potential tenants or purchasers. 24 hour advance notice may be required by local law for the latter 2, but not for the first.

    • Bottom line: Don't put up with shitty/ilegal contracts. It's that simple.

      Sure, this, when it's only a small percentage of companies that do things like this. Stuff like this is concerning because if it becomes widespread, "don't put up with shitty/illegal contracts" becomes "don't rent anywhere". I put mandatory arbitration agreements in this category. If you don't want to accept a mandatory arbitration agreement, that's synonymous with not having a credit card, for example.

  • As if this isn't abusive enough, the candidates are not allowed to see nor challenge their report, unlike with credit reports. Landlords first, employers next...and then?

    If the landlord thinks this is a good idea, be thankful. Why? Because you don't want to rent from such a jerk.

  • required to grant it full access to your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and/or Instagram profiles

    I think we need governments to step in and make such intrusion illegal. It's not just a matter of expecting people to be canny enough to give snoops a fake profile.

    Yes, big government, nanny state and all that with such a move to protect the kiddies from the cold winds of capitalism unfettered by the morality we've relied on to make capitalism work.
    Hey libertarians out there, you are getting the world you wanted.

  • How hard can it be...
  • by ledow ( 319597 )

    Breach of the Data Protection Act. Even employers cannot ask you to do this, and not providing service if the user refuses to allow it will see you in court too.

    Honestly, that's a business with a life expectancy of precisely one lawsuit threat.

    No, this isn't going on in Britain.
    No, it's nothing to do with Big Brother.

    It's a company being stupid and knowingly doing illegal stuff that, when the Data Controller finds out, he'll nail them to the wall for. It has absolutely no basis is reality, even if some pe

    • Breach of the Data Protection Act. Even employers cannot ask you to do this, and not providing service if the user refuses to allow it will see you in court too.

      Honestly, that's a business with a life expectancy of precisely one lawsuit threat.

      No, this isn't going on in Britain.
      No, it's nothing to do with Big Brother.

      It's a company being stupid and knowingly doing illegal stuff that, when the Data Controller finds out, he'll nail them to the wall for. It has absolutely no basis is reality, even if some people were stupid enough to give them access.

      Sure, the data controller will do that--if they were providing their services in Britain. Since this is a US journalist (implicitly) talking about its use in the US, nothing says that they're running afoul of British law.

      • The regulator is called the information commissioner, not the data controller, who is the person at the company legally responsible for compliance. The data subject is well, the subject of the data.

        The Data Protection Act applies were either the data controller or the data subject are UK entities. So the personal data of Americans or any anybody is legal protected when held by a UK company.

        This company is clearly acting illegally and subject to a £6k fine per person per breach.

  • I'm surprised lawyers aren't all over this. Granting anyone else access to your FaceBook, InstaGram, or worse, SlashDot account login information is against the Terms-of-Service, as is using it in an insecure way (known hazardous friends). FB lawyers actually have a cause-of-action as someone is inducing their customers to break their contracts.

    No different from employers, landlords could easily face discrimination lawsuits. But more likely to fear FB who can marshall endless legions of lawyers. I'm s

  • Very strangely their site is full of Lorem ipsum, got the feeling this is either deliberately creating a faux controversy for farming inbound links or perhaps just a massive troll.

  • fuck the world
  • WTF is going on with these criminal scumbags? Enough, kill the landlords demanding this of tenants. Break out the torches, pitchforks, and guillotines already.

  • And they are too stupid to know it.

    The privacy laws make it illegal for the landlords to ask AND also illegal for the anyone working for the land lords to ask those things.

    No company is allowed to break the law merely because they have a contract from their victims saying they can.

    Otherwise landlords would have you sign such a contract before you rent a place.

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