Weblining – Why eating at Nando’s could cost you your mortgage

Weblining sometimes called Redlining is a potentially discriminatory practice of offering preferential products and services on account of a person’s standing, or behaviour on the internet.  

Nandos chicken restaurant (or other fast food restaurants for that matter) could be damaging your chances for a gaining a mortgage deal.

To banks, institutions and services your lifestyle is increasingly determined on the information that is publically available, and that information shows where you shop, what you spend on bank cards, or loyalty programmes (even your Facebook/4Square check-ins) could make where you shop a risky transaction as everything is tracked, audited and scored.

Quite simply it could see you categorised in the lower C2, D & E social classes having dined at the budget restaurant.

Indeed, it is not uncommon for a person’s credit limit to go down based on where they shop.

Take the case of an Atlanta man who returned from honeymoon to discover his credit lowered to by $7000 because as American Express informed him: “Other customers who have used their card at establishments where you recently shopped have a poor repayment history”. And that was that!

Illegal Redlining

Go back a few years and Redlining was the practice undertaken by insurers, banks, health care providers and even some employers in 1960s America. It was a fairly manual process unlike today’s algorithmically set person categorisations.  The term was first coined by John McKnight, a sociologist and community activist. In the academic setting, Redlining fell under the broader category of Credit Rationing.

Widespread Redlining led to entire areas becoming discriminated against, often with a on a map marked and ring-fenced by a boundary that then dictated the premiums or access to services and jobs people in that area would receive.

The inverse practice is where a bank or insurer targets Redlined areas, not to deny those loans or insurance, but rather to charge them more.

Say Hello to Weblining

In today’s Web dominated world the term, Redlining has come to be known as Weblining.

Weblining represents a practice of offering certain products (say Mortgages) and prices (via setting cookies) based on previous surfing habits. Not only are you being tracked, and traded you are also being scored.

And granted Redlining is now illegal, Weblining is an increasingly prevalent rank based practice that uses dynamic data profiling and it’s more sophisticated than ever before.

For instance, you Googled “cancer” for a friend or “illegal arms” for a short story you are working on, data profilers garner those searches, and might serve them to your bank or insurer. The upshot could see you without your loan or health cover because you have been scored and Weblined into a certain (unfavourable) category of customer.

Weblining is powerful. It taps into the rich series of information available through web data processers to determine what type of person you are. And when the banks want to know your lifestyle choices before granting a mortgage they may simply turn to three sources of info: your email, your Facebook activity and credit card spending locations.

Google told to forget it

In the case of a Spanish citizen named Costeja González, Google were intrusted to forget certain information about an individual.  It was indirect Weblining and was distinctly possible because Google search results showed links to a Spanish newspaper story about a pending court case to hear a default notice levied on González’s home.  Only there was one problem. He paid off the loan, and settled without actually defaulting before the case reached court. Until the EU ruling Google results continued to Webline him as a defaulter regardless of the fact.

This was because Google has refused to forget the negative, outdated and damaging information about individuals.

European Court of Justice ruling

However, in May 2014 the European Court of Justice reinterpreted EU data protection laws and subsequently instructed Google to erase superfluous hypertext links from its search engine results (SERP). The judgement was in relation to two pages on La Vanguardia’s website that connected Mr González by name and references in the SERPS to the outdated 1988 auction notice for his repossessed home.

The European judges bolstered EU data protection directive by accepting a current “right to be forgotten” when they found that links within Google’s SERP relating to the auction notification were redundant and should be removed and forgotten after a certain time.

ECoJ said in the future link should be removed if they “appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant or excessive … in the light of the time that had elapsed”. The Judges attested that even lawfully published accurate data may “in the course of time become incompatible with the directive” and therefore should also be removed. The judgement is one mini step to helping individuals protect their name against outdated and often spent information which may be used in some form of Weblining.

So, though a very manual process and less targeted, the Google Search Results offered their own Weblining variant of poor results equalling a dark shadow over a person’s opportunities in work, finance and perhaps even love.

And there are those reformed characters with spent convictions and the cheating partners who have been defamed by their enraged lovers that need to deal with Weblining via Google. Until now all Google results were indelible, irrevocably carved into the great web copy machine on the net.

So far Google has received over 41,000 removal requests through a “link takedown form” and Google plans to publish the total requests in its annual transparency report, which also includes Government requests for access to data, and account information. Bing and Yahoo are set to follow suit by offering EU users a channel to request link subversion.

Eating your way to a junk food score

While outdated links may be disappearing, your digital footprint and web score is unseen and highly prolific, so when an announcement that UK banks are set to vet lifestyle habits of mortgage applicants before offering a loan suddenly your dining habits are come back in focus.

As Redlining shows this wouldn’t be the first time multi-national banks have used lifestyle profiling,.

Perhaps these lifestyle questions will seek to argue that guitarists or divorcing couples are more likely to dodge their repayments, you might just have the wrong hobby as judged by a credit or Weblined scoring system.

It could mean that if you looked for a Fender guitar or mailed a lawyer you get bucketed into the lower end of credit worthiness.

The facts about lifestyle questions are presented as “safe-guarding” the bank’s money, making sure only those who can afford a mortgage get one, but the reality is the questions will merely serve to Redline people, by way of self-certification.

So be circumspect when you apply for your next mortgage and most importantly always pay cash at Nandos because you just never know how what it’s doing to your web score!

Rhoda Crocket
Rhoda Crocket is Netopia’s undercover hacking and spamming expert. The name is fake (like with any spammer), but Netopia knows her real identity.