Sunday, March 1, 2009

The New FICO

Aside from language, one of the first things that hit me when I first moved to the US is how everything here is ruled by your credit score. To get an apartment, utilities, cellphone and even certain jobs, your credit score is a major factor. So imagine me freshly landed in VA being told that even though the three US companies that monitor credit are exactly the same in Canada, they couldn't use my Canadian credit history in the US. As such, I was a nobody and therefore considered a credit risk. Imagine also that for the first month, I couldn't even get gas or electricity because they won't give it to you unless you have a social security number. Except it takes a little over 4 weeks for a new US resident to get one. This all translated as me having to make big security deposits for absolutely everything, including a $700 deposit just for a stupid cell phone.

So I was browsing the International Game Developers Association discussion group on Linkedin when I stumbled on the Reputation Share thread. Their goal is to provide a type of FICO score not for your credit history, but for your online behavior. I have to say I have extremely mixed feelings about it. Here's an excerpt from their information white paper:

"When someone registers on a site supported by ReputationShare, the service knows at least some of the following:
• This user is unknown. This email has never been used on any site in the participating network
• This user has reputation reports from 37 sites in our network. They have used these sites 5,233 times over the past 32 months without any negative incidents
• This user has 17 complaints against their reputation – 16 for spam, one for bullying...
• This user has made purchases from 73% of the e‐commerce websites they joined in our network. (You may want to greet this user with a discount coupon.)
• This user has bought from e‐commerce websites in our network 13 times, and reported for charge‐back fraud all 13 times.
• This user has been banned from one or more sites in our network for soliciting for sex from a user whose profile is that of a minor."

There is no question that it would be nice to track sexual predators, especially in MMOs. As a former guildmistress, I've had to deal with such situations: one where one of my female guildmember had to get a restraining order against a former guildmate who was stalking her in real life after she put an end to their in game relationship. Another where I found out that the 29 yo female I had just booted from the guild had been having cyber sex and phone sex with a 14 yo kid in the guild. And that makes me think yeah, I definitely would much rather keep such people out of the games I play or work on, and away from children.

Then you're looking at all the scammers, griefers and exploiters and thinking yeah, without such creeps, the game would be so much better! Problem is, people, especially in this last group, do change. My own experience (which is in no way meant to be taken as an official statistics) has been that most of the scammers and griefers are teenagers. Many exploiters also are teens with quite a few in their early 20s, but still fairly young and irresponsible. And I've found them to have really improved their ways as they mature. Problem is, your FICO has a way of sticking to you like white on rice. Repairing it can be extremely difficult.

Some of you will say "Tough luck! They should have thought about it first!" I don't quite disagree. You should be held accountable to a certain extent for your misbehavior. My problem is that FICO type of systems have too much of a "guilty until proven innocent" approach. As with my "coming to America" story, scoring systems punish you right off the bat with all kinds of penalties not because of any wrongdoings on your part, but simply because you haven't yet proven yourself.

I've known people who have always paid all of their bills on time, who owe nothing and who never borrowed because they don't believe in credit or being in debt. You'd think they'd be the ideal candidate for a mortgage right? But no, they can't get a loan because they don't have credit history. They are nobodies... Once rating Internet behavior becomes a standard, how long will it take before you're asked to make hefty security deposits because you are new to the scene or had a few misconducts years ago when you didn't know better? I support the idea behind this service, I just don't think I agree with the service itself.


Anonymous said...

and who will vet the comments/complaints? Knowing the UO player base, I am sure there are those who would game the system to artificially raise/lower a given person's reputation. In fact, how long before there would be websites to improve your reputation, or lower a hated enemies rep for cash?

There were a few articles about a similar thing for FICO boosting based on authorized user status. High credit score users would be given cash to allow low credit score users be listed as authorized users on their credit cards. Supposed to have boosted scores since the low credit score guy got benefit froh high credit score guys FICO. Think FICO scoring was supposed to have changed and fixed this, but it took awhile. What's to stop the same thing from happening with a game rep system?

Regine "Sakkarah" Abel said...

That was another concern I had. Obviously, the first part of the complaints would be handled by whoever is moderating the forums, or the GM system that specific game or service uses. Then this information would be forwarded to ReputationShare who would do w/e it is they do with it.

But you are absolutely right. That company isn't going to perform a thorough investigation of the reported incident. Being reported for griefing or spamming is not like skipping a car payment. There are a number of websites where the admin/mods are clearly abusing their power and banning people over nonsense. You can easily destroy someone's rep in no time. Just like I'm sure if/when this becomes commonplace, you will start seeing tons of sites that will help you rebuild your rep for a "nominal" fee.