business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The New York Times reported over the weekend about something called an e-score, described as "an online calculation that is assuming an increasingly important, and controversial, role in e-commerce," and that go way beyond what traditional credit scores have done.

"These digital scores, known broadly as consumer valuation or buying-power scores, measure our potential value as customers. What’s your e-score? You’ll probably never know. That’s because they are largely invisible to the public. But they are highly valuable to companies that want — or in some cases, don’t want — to have you as their customer.

"Online consumer scores are calculated by a handful of start-ups, as well as a few financial services stalwarts, that specialize in the flourishing field of predictive consumer analytics. It is a Google-esque business, one fueled by almost unimaginable amounts of data and powered by complex computer algorithms. The result is a private, digital ranking of American society unlike anything that has come before ... These scores can determine whether someone is pitched a platinum credit card or a plain one, a full-service cable plan or none at all. They can determine whether a customer is routed promptly to an attentive service agent or relegated to an overflow call center."

The Times goes on to say that "federal regulators and consumer advocates worry that these scores could eventually put some consumers at a disadvantage, particularly those under financial stress. In effect, they say, the scores could create a new subprime class: people who are bypassed by companies online without even knowing it. Financial institutions, in particular, might avoid people with low scores, reducing those people’s access to home loans, credit cards and insurance."

Somewhere, George Orwell is not surprised by all this. And he's probably sitting somewhere, having a pint with Patrick McGoohan, talking about how they tried to warn us, but we wouldn't listen...
KC's View: