Terms and Consequences: How a click could cost you money

(NEWS10) — It is almost impossible to interact with society without being online. You can bank online, shop online, and connect with old friends, but with this social progress, follows potential discrimination.

Allowing companies to track and collect our online activity is how we are able to reach people across the globe, get alerts for job postings based on our degree, and see ads based on previous purchases.

However, there can be negative implications. For starters, that data could make or break your odds of getting a loan.

Millions of people discovered they unknowingly gave the company Niantic full access to their google accounts. They quickly back-pedaled, but critics shamed consumers for not reading the terms and conditions.

“If you read the terms and conditions, it said very clearly it’s going to track everything about you and re-sell it,” said CEO of Greycastle Security, Reg Harnish.

Every company with an online presence has one of these agreements. When you hit accept, your online activity is collected, wrapped up in a bow, and sold to the highest bidder.

“If the product is free, it means you’re the product,” said Harnish. “Google doesn’t make stuff and they are worth more than GE, think about that for a second. Something’s got to be valuable. It’s our data.”

So what happens when hundreds of companies have access to our personal information? For starters, privacy is never guaranteed.

“When you go to a website, there’s all this stuff happening in the background where different advertisers are asking to be able to show you an ad,” said James Hendler, Director of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for Data Exploration and Applications.

They not only show you an ad, but adjust the price.

“What most people don’t realize is that the price I pay is based on the company’s knowledge of me,” said Hendler. “So if they see I spend a lot of time in sporting goods stores, when I go to a website to buy something, they’ll actually charge me more than someone else.”

When you visit a site, something called a cookie is stored in your browser. It is shared with all of these different companies, but it could affect your wallet.

If you are shopping online from home, and the company sees you live far from the store, it may charge you more money hoping you will choose convenience over traveling, but it could also give you a break if the company sees you live close to a competitor.

“For some folks, the convenience of targeted advertising is always going to trump the privacy for them,” said Kristine Gloria, PhD candidate of cognitive science at RPI.

Gloria is a PhD candidate at RPI, who has been studying public policies and computer algorithm designs.

She says your online profile could create very real road blocks to financial issues.

“When you’re applying for mortgage loans or when you’re applying for insurance, because these companies are creating profiles about you, right,” Gloria said. “And what if the profile is wrong? Then there’s an inference made about you that you have no control over.”

Take a patent recently acquired by Facebook. It could give loan services access to your list of friends, enabling lenders to check your friends’ credit histories before approving you for a loan.

If the average credit rating among your social network is low, your application could be rejected.

“There is a lot to be said about data that’s automatically collected about you and then being used to make a profile or an inference about you, so that is one aspect of privacy and data collection that will resonate to the question, ‘Does it matter?'” said Gloria.

So what can we do about it? Unless you plan on living under a rock, it’s pretty hard to avoid it completely, but you can minimize this by disabling cookies every so often.

In terms of using our data to assess credit risk, it can be useful for some people who don’t have enough information in their credit file to produce a credit score.

Big data can draw from multiple sources of information and fill in the gaps, but the White House released a report earlier this year cautioning against re-encoding bias into algorithms.

It is an ongoing conversation.

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