Big day to talk big data

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It’s funny how kids sometimes mishear famous phrases – for example, “And lead us not into Penn Station” or the confused Elton John lyric “Hold me closer, Tony Danza.”  We once heard first graders end the Pledge of Allegiance by saying “One nation, individual, with liberty and justice for all.”  On second thought, maybe they were on to something.  Analytics techniques are out there that categorize consumers and make predictions about individual behavior.  For sure, it can offer insights to advance medical research, transportation, manufacturing, etc.  But to what extent can big data be used to categorize consumers in ways that may affect them unfairly – or even unlawfully?  Mark your calendar for September 15, 2014.  That’s when the FTC will host a national workshop, Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion?

This isn’t a hypothetical discussion.  As observers have reported, companies are already using big data to reward some customers with better service, shorter wait times, and even lower prices.  But what about the use of unregulated scoring models that assess credit risks based not on the traits of individual consumers, but rather on aggregate credit characteristics of certain groups?  Do these practices have an unfair impact on low-income or underserved consumers, limiting their access to better products, services, or content?

Here are just some of the questions on the agenda for Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion?:

  • How are organizations using big data to categorize consumers?
  • How does this benefit consumers and businesses?  But are there consumer protection concerns?
  • What are the social and economic impacts – positive and negative – of these practices?
  • How do existing laws apply?  Are there gaps in the legal framework?
  • Is the impact on low-income and underserved consumers being appropriately assessed?

Want to weigh in?  The deadline for comments is August 15, 2014.  Check back soon for more information about the workshop.  But for now, mark your calendars for September 15th in Washington, D.C.



This is just redlining with a new twist. Because all redheaded one-legged Episcopalians have a certain composite score in gross doesn't justify individuals' denial of credit. Or how about all minorities in San Antonio? This is simply another outrageous abuse.

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