Stevens Requests Information About Secret Consumer Scores

February 6, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Last week, Congresswoman Haley Stevens (MI-11) sent a letter to Comptroller General of the United States Gene L. Dodaro asking the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine emerging types of consumer scores used by corporations to predict customer behavior.

In November 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that companies are using hundreds of data points to generate a ‘Customer Lifetime Value’ score that determines how a customer is treated, from the prices they pay for a product to the quality of customer service they receive. While traditional credit scores are transparent and regulated by the federal government to protect consumers, these scores are secret and not currently subject to any regulation.

“I am concerned about the use and transparency of consumer scores that may be based on inaccurate information that the consumer is unable to see or correct,” said Congresswoman Stevens. “In addition, there are concerns that scores may be discriminatory or unfair—based on underlying factors of things like race, religion, gender, or marital status—or may contain private and sensitive data about things like a consumer’s health history and status. Yet unlike credit scores, these consumer scores are both unregulated and kept secret from consumers.

Specifically, Congresswoman Stevens asked the GAO to examine the generation, use, and regulation of these consumer scores, and to identify potential issues with transparency, privacy, bias, accuracy, and security.

Stevens’ letter to Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro can be found attached or below.

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

Credit scores provided by consumer reporting agencies have long been used to determine a consumer’s eligibility for credit, employment, housing, and insurance, among other things. Consumers are generally familiar with credit scoring, and the scores are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which helps improve accuracy and gives consumers certain rights to view and correct information feeding into the scores.

In contrast, little is known about newer kinds of consumer scores, which can use hundreds of pieces of information about a consumer to predict his or her future behavior. These scores have proliferated greatly in recent years. A recent New York Times article reported that these “secret scores” can be used to determine how long you wait on hold when calling a business, whether you can return an item to a store, and what type of service you receive. The Wall Street Journal reported that all manner of companies use “customer lifetime value” scores that can determine the prices you pay, the products and advertisements you see, and the perks you receive.

I am concerned about the use and transparency of consumer scores that may be based on inaccurate information that the consumer is unable to see or correct. In addition, there are concerns that scores may be discriminatory or unfair—based on underlying factors of things like race, religion, gender, or marital status—or may contain private and sensitive data about things like a consumer’s health history and status. Yet unlike credit scores, these consumer scores are both unregulated and kept secret from consumers.

To help us understand the landscape and potential issues around consumer scores (exclusive of credit scores or other scores covered under FCRA), I request that the GAO examine the following issues:

  • What does the marketplace of consumer scores look like? What kinds of scores exist? What types of businesses create and sell them? What information is used in their creation? What types of private-sector entities purchase and use these scores? In what ways are they used? 
  • To what extent do federal and state agencies use these scores and for what purposes?
  • To what extent does federal law and regulation govern the creation, storage, and use of these types of consumer scores?
  • What concerns exist with regard to issues such as the transparency, privacy, bias, accuracy, and security of these scores?

Should you have any questions regarding this request, please reach out to my office.

Sincerely,

Haley M. Stevens

Member of Congress


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