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Landlords Use Sneaky Spyware To Judge Potential Tenants

As the market intensifies, the race for space makes landlords more choosy—and sneaky.

By Archana Aithal Rose September 19, 2016

Ever opened your Facebook page after a night of debauchery or Vegas-style partying, and reflect in complete horror on your bad judgement? Unless you’re living under a rock or are Amish, that’s probably happened to you at least once. Our social media posts may have killed our chances for that promotion, ruined a friendship or just horrified your mom. Now, this cyber map of your life might just be keeping you from scoring that perfect apartment thanks to tactile tenant screening. So if you’re considering that third gimlet on a Friday night, put it down—the landlord mafia has eyes on you.

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Early June of this year, the Washington Post wrote about an alarming new software called Tenant Assured that runs a fine toothcomb through tenants’ social media accounts to collect comprehensive data and assess risk scores. The start-up claims that their surveillance algorithms equip landlords with a potential tenant’s social media activity like bar check-ins, financial portfolios, and even if they’re new to the country. The software tracks the tenant’s search history, so if your repeated keywords on Google are words like poor, loan and pregnant, you’re probably not lush tenant material. Makes you wonder if pregnant and poor are correlated—but what the data essentially does is help landlords weed out risky tenants.

It may have gotten a lot of flak for being misinforming, invasive and discriminatory, but the most disturbing outcome of this technology is how it encourage prejudice against immigrants and favors gentrification. How does this work in a highly immigrant-concentrated and class-diversified city like New York? Of course, Tenant Assured is only the tip of the iceberg, surveillance options for landlords run deep. Toronto-based Naborly has analyzed more than one million renters across North America and its algorithms are apparently tactile at evaluating eviction chances and late rent payments. All this tech-profiting software complements the already existing traditional screening systems.

Hidden cameras have long been deployed to spy on tenants—and it a’int pretty. In fact, it’s a rather common practice in low-income and mixed-income units and housing projects. But as gentrification continues to grow, renters everywhere will unanimously be subjected to profiling. In Washington, the misuse of data to screen tenants has created an outrage amongst tenants unions. What’s worrying in the face of this technological advancement is its inaccuracy. Algorithms, like human beings, are flawed. The profile they create is limited to the information it’s been fed, leaving a lot of room for interpretation and personal bias. Also, while this method lacks total transparency, tenants have no idea what data has been provided for them to even deny it. Steve Thornhill, co-founder of the British start-up Score Assured that patented Rent Assured told Washington Post, “If you’re living a normal life, then you have nothing to worry about.” Then again, doesn’t everyone’s normal differ substantially?

Archana Aithal Rose

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Archana Aithal Rose

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Archana Aithal Rose

Archana Aithal Rose’s articles have appeared in The Times of India, CNNGo, Condé Nast Traveler and Vogue, covering such broad range of topics as fashion, art, travel, culture, celebrities, architecture and technology. In addition to writing, Archana's also known for her mad photography and cooking skills.

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