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Schufa Germany: Research Project Concerning the Mining of Social Media Data Draws Political Flak

According to press reports SCHUFA, Germany’s largest consumer credit information supplier plans to use information it gathers online, including information from individual social media such as Facebook and others, in its analysis of an individual’s creditworthiness.  SCHUFA, plans to use Social Media data to study a person’s relationships in determining how that might affect their ability to pay their bills, the German broadcaster NDR reported last week, citing confidential internal documents.

The facts are that this was to be a legitimate research project.  It was transparent and not secret as the press had implied and most importantly it was quite remote from an actual plan.  SCHUFA’s academic partner, the Hasso Plattner Institute, at the University of Potsdam was to research what kind of data can be ‘safely and responsibly’ sourced from the Internet, data which has been placed there voluntarily and intentionally by someone to be seen by others.  The second objective was to find out whether some conclusions can be extracted from the data.

BIIA sees nothing evil in doing research.  It is better to do conduct responsible research rather than venturing into irresponsible experimentation which is already underway in other parts of the world.   The sad part is that a legitimate research project was turned into a hot potato with the two parties involved dropping project in haste.   Even sadder is the part played by the Hasso Plattner Institute which did not defend its right to conduct academic research of its own choosing.  When it comes to researching new business concepts German businesses often turn to academic institutions.  That is good practice and the Germans are usually very good in using academic / business partnerships. SCHUFA is not alone in this. 

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