Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What kind of a bird brain are you?

Your Mother knew it all along. “You’re known by the company you keep,” she’d caution. “Birds of a feather flock together,” she’d reiterate for emphasis, warning you to stay away from “the wrong crowd.”

In this digital age, her warnings have never been more prescient…or more difficult to follow.

It seems that your apparently innocent chitchat on Twitter, Facebook and similar social sites could have an impact on your credit worthiness.

The theory is that if your friends, fans and casual contacts--the folks in your digital flock--responsibly pay their bills on time, then you are likely to be a good risk, too. But have a few bad eggs in your flock, and you could have trouble getting that next car loan.

The practical reality is that competitive “friending” is alive and well. By the informal rules of this competition, he with the most contacts wins “bragging rights.” And he often “wins” by adding contacts of contacts’ contacts in a second or third generation of “friends.” As a result, he with the deepest social Rolodex may be unintentionally putting himself in some financial jeopardy.

Having a wide network of socially responsible friends enhances your credit score, as there are more corroborating verification points. But discrepancies between your loan application and your Facebook wall can raise red flags. Got it?

Like so many things today, it starts with data mining.

A San Francisco-based company, Rapleaf, monitors who you tweet and what you tweet and post. They are looking at your friends and the people in your extended networks. From that data Rapleaf creates “social graphs” of your likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. Then Rapleaf sells your info.

The buyers—often lenders—insist they are using the information for marketing purposes only. They want to send you offers that would interest you. Rapleaf says the lenders aren’t using the information to reject customers. But the specter of data mining information beyond credit scores raises privacy concerns among consumer advocates.

And here’s another corollary warning for the youngsters: Don’t put anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t want your Mother to see. It’s bad enough that she can see pictures of your drunken college weekend or read about your sexploits on Spring break in Florida.

It’s devastating when your potential employer also sees your shenanigans. And they will. 70% of employers now check Facebook before hiring.

If that junk is still there, get rid of it! Better yet, never post it in the first place.

But back to the birds in your flock. Consumer advocates suggest that you may want to check out the profiles of the people you friend before you friend them willy nilly.

Make yours a flock of Penguins—birds who famously work for the greater good through the worst Mother Nature has to throw at them—not Cowbirds—opportunistic birds that lay their eggs in the nests of hardworking birds, forcing those unwitting foster parents to raise the cowbird young.

It’s simple. Add Penguins and delete Cowbirds from your flock.

Sometimes smaller is better. You may lose a bragging right or two when you shed contacts, but it’s not always about notches in a belt. (It’s a mixed metaphor, I know, but it is extremely apt. If you don’t know what I mean by notches in a belt, ask someone over the age of 55.)

And for goodness’ sake, remember that everything you post is public information.

Make your Mother proud. Don't be a dodo.

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