Whether Working or Job Seeking, the Algorithm Is Watching

At the New York Times, Natasha Singer reviews two books on employment scoring programs, the software used by companies and recruiters to sort job candidates and workers.

Both books outline how consumer scoring works. Data brokers amass dossiers with thousands of details about individual consumers, like age, religion, ethnicity, profession, mortgage size, social networks, estimated income and health concerns such as impotence and irritable bowel syndrome. Then analytics engines can compare patterns in those variables against computer forecasting models. Algorithms are used to assign consumers scores — and to recommend offering, or withholding, particular products, services or fees — based on predictions about their behavior.

“The Reputation Economy: How to Optimize Your Digital Footprint in A World Where Your Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset” advocates that we take control over our online reputations by providing databases with more and more “desirable” information about ourselves. One of the book’s coauthors, Michael Fertik, is the chief executive of Reputation.com, a business that helps people manage their online reputations. Fertik is trying to justify the existence of his business. He is attempting to convince us that the best way to prevent unfair, opaque consumer scores from controlling our employment opportunities is to self-report our personal information to private companies, including his own.

The other book, thankfully, isn’t trying to peddle a shit-solution. In “The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information,” University of Maryland Law Professor Frank Pasquale argues for consumer protection. Pasquale believes consumers deserve transparency and accountability in the same way the Fair Credit Reporting Act regulates consumer reporting agencies.

“Consumers would have more control, he argues, if Congress extended the right to see and correct credit reports to other kinds of rankings. ‘If credit scores can be regulated,’ he says, ‘why not the scoring systems used by digital advertisers and employers?'”


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