Discrimination Potential Seen in 'Big Data' Use

April 27, 2014
Associated Press 
A White House review analyzing whether existing laws and policy adequately address privacy issues tied to "big data" has also raised unexpected concerns about the potential for bias.

Technological advancement allows government and private-sector users to collect large amounts of data on people, but the study results suggested that current laws would not prevent this information from being used to discriminate against Americans -- especially in terms of housing and jobs. As employment centers shift from urban to suburban locations, for instance, employers may worry that applicants who commute long distances may have lower longevity with the firm, resulting in a hiring process based on class. "You're essentially being dinged for a job for really arbitrary characteristics," explains American Civil Liberties Union attorney Chris Calabrese. "Use of this data has real impact on peoples' lives."

As another example, companies that mine social media for information may categorize people based on their site activity. Someone who posts about a job loss or who is struggling with mortgage payments could be flagged as a good candidate for a high-cost loan, Calabrese notes. "You are individually targeted for a loan based on inclusion on one of these lists and get a higher interest rate. That is in spite of the fact that if you walked in off the street you might qualify for a lower rate," he adds. "You never know that you are being targeted individually since you just click on an ad on the side of a website. That is the discrimination."

The full report is slated for release sometime this week.

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