The recent admission that Facebook data was accessed by third parties without users’ consent and used to run targeted political ads has reignited concerns about how social media may be impacting Americans in real life. Reports have suggested that credit bureaus may be exploring – or could already be – using an individual’s social media posts as a basis for evaluating creditworthiness. Does someone’s social media presence impact their credit score, and if so, what can consumers do to protect their privacy?

Are credit bureaus using social scoring?

Comments made by FICO CEO William Lansing to the Financial Times in 2015 suggested that creditors were planning to use data from social media to make lending decisions. In an anecdote, he claimed that the number of times an individual used the term “wasted” in their Facebook profile could be useful in predicting whether that person would repay their debts. Meanwhile, Facebook secured a patent for a process that would enable creditors to judge whether an individual was qualified for a loan based on an evaluation of that person’s friends on the platform.

The prospect of using social media to assess an individual’s creditworthiness isn’t entirely theoretical. China is already outlining a “social credit system” that will collect and analyze wide-ranging data on its citizens, including their social media posts, to determine credit eligibility. The Chinese government expects to implement an initial version of this project by 2020.

Despite these concerning developments, social scoring won’t be coming to the U.S. anytime soon. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) prohibits creditors from considering an applicant’s age, race, color, marital status, religion or national origin when deciding whether to extend credit or setting the terms of a loan. Much of that information can be easily obtained from an individual’s social media accounts, which means that lenders that consider social media data could face claims of discrimination.

The credit bureaus also know that the persona an individual presents on social media can be easily manipulated. Individuals can fabricate information that reporting agencies categorize as positive or refrain from sharing posts that would be considered negative. The Federal Trade Commission also suggested that it may be able to regulate social media platforms as consumer reporting agencies if they share their data for loan criteria purposes. Perhaps that’s why Facebook changed their terms of service to prohibit lenders from using their user data to make decisions about credit eligibility.

What consumers need to know

Creditworthiness is determined by objective data, not subjective information like social media posts. To calculate an individual’s credit score, the bureaus consider an individual’s payment history, credit utilization ratio (debts compared to total available credit), length of credit history, types of credit and any newly opened accounts. Individuals have the right to review the information in their credit records and correct any inaccuracies.

However, that doesn’t mean users’ social media posts can’t hurt them. It is important to note that employers, landlords and insurers aren’t prohibited from making decisions based on information found on social media platforms. Users can minimize the risk of having their accounts used against them by tightening their privacy settings, only accepting connection requests from individuals they know, removing posts that could be viewed negatively and being mindful of the information they share.