Landlords Employ Big Data: Vet Tenants Using Social Media

The security of private information has always been a growing concern for social media users. Every day, folk helplessly pump their social media accounts with data—personal info, tweets about their daily dealings, pictures that hint at their personalities and moods, even videos of their visits to an expensive boutique—that, if carefully analysed, can be used to define them.


We all already know that companies use data from various online platforms to study and predict consumer purchasing behaviours. And we all also know that the day is coming, a day in the future of big data, when our social media activities will officially be used to judge us.

Score Assured, a British start-up, bold in a nightmarish kind of way, has decided to bring that future to us via their new product, Tenant Assured, which helps landlords and letting agents vet prospective tenants using data from the tenants’ social media accounts to judge five major personality traits—extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

For a tenant to be able to rent from a landlord that employs Tenant Assured services, he or she is required to give Tenant Assured full access to his or her social media accounts—that is, including his or her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts. Full access in this case means that Tenant Assured gets to “…take a deep dive…” into the tenant’s social media profile, conversation threads, and even private messages.

“…Take a deep dive into private social media profiles…” Those were the words of the company’s co-founder and director, Steve Thornhill.

How deep a dive is it?

Tenant Assured collects the tenant’s social media activities and analyses them using a set of logical software, including one that processes natural language, to produce a ruthless report detailing a lot of info about the tenant, info that normally should be private. The content of the report ranges from the tenant’s personality to employment history. Tenant Assured then sells it to the landlords and letting agents.

It doesn’t, of course, end there.

We all know that landlords, employers et cetera usually conduct background checks before renting out a property or hiring a worker, and that they often use social media to do this. Such a measure of quality-control checks, while familiar, is already unnerving as it is.

Tenant Assured, equipped with their analytic software and demand for full access, takes it to the next level, “…not to replace traditional credit checks,” Thornhill said, “but to add to them.” For instance, “It lets them look at the character of a person, if they’ve got pets, if they are always out partying,” he also said.

While the report is a great way for landlords to judge whether they have found an appropriate tenant or not, whether a tenant is credit-worthy or not, it exposes delicate information like race, religion and even whether a prospective tenant has referenced pregnancy before on social media. Plus, applicants have neither the permission to view the reports nor a means of disputing them—things people certainly can do in the case of traditional credit reports.

To back Tenant Assured’s unorthodox service, Steve Thornhill also said, “All we can do is give them the information. It’s up to landlords to do the right thing.” Talk about giving a mouse a roast fish and expecting it to do the right thing. It will, of course, eat the fish, which is the right thing for a mouse to do with a fish.

The question is how far Tenant Assured will go with this new service of theirs. They have surely empowered landlords—quite immensely? Perhaps very soon ‘Employee Assured’ will be unveiled…in a world where securing a job is already a Herculean Task.

Steve Thornhill assures us that life goes on, whatever may come. “People will give up their privacy to get something they want,” he said. He also assured, “If you’re living a normal life, then, frankly, you have nothing to worry about.”

Hold on a minute.

The reports produced using Tenant Assured are born of an algorithm that will most likely fail when pit against a millionth of a proper AI. Throw that fact in the mix and you begin to see how misleading all this can be. Given the permission, Tenant Assured’s software can access our social media profiles and inboxes, but does it really understand sarcasm or how a human can throw the word ‘loan’ or ‘bomb’ into a conversation about food?

This is not a joke. The modern human being can get very, unusually creative with words and concepts. It doesn’t take a lot to lie on social media about purchasing a £1000 dress, which still hangs in a City centre boutique, just to save face or feel classy. Neither does it take a lot to fabricate an entire employment history on LinkedIn or even to fabricate a whole Facebook profile based on false information.

Therefore, can Tenant Assured confidently assure us that a tenant can or cannot pay his or her rent simply by using factors like “words mentioned on social media” and “frequency of social logins in online retail sites and leisure-oriented activities”? That last part would imply that most of the times people visit a retail site, they purchase something—which isn’t entirely accurate.

Thornhill earnestly believes his company’s product gives power to landlords and tenants alike. He believes Tenant Assured helps landlords detect lies in applications and make better decisions concerning who they rent to. As for tenants, he believes his product helps them provide reliable pictures of themselves—details better and more reliable than can be obtained via background checks and credit reports.

While this can be true, to what extent should it go?

Thornhill’s replied to criticisms, saying that Tenant Assured acquires permission before it embarks on its analysis, and their procedure is not very unlike a background check or credit rating. He also said that landlords and agents lose access to their tenant’s social media profiles after the report and would be required to pay again, should they want another report later.

Policy director at the Residential Landlords Association, David Smith, said that employers already indulge in checking the social media profiles of prospective employees. Hence, Tenant Assured’s product, as Thornhills also said, isn’t all that different.

While the tool is said to enable landlords to see the context in whatever data it procures so that sharing an article about loans on Facebook doesn’t get mistaken as a struggle for cash, the fact remains that the overall score of a tenant is calculated using indicators like the mention of ‘loan’ and such like.

Thus, it should be noted that whatever data Tenant Assured obtain from potential tenants’ social media profiles can easily be taken out of context.

Article Source: The House Shop