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Reputation bankruptcy

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4 Responses

  1. I think you will find that even if some principled intermediaries agree to a reputation bankruptcy system, other entities will continue to “dish the dirt” on people. And they’ll probably rely on First Amendment protection to trump any efforts to stop them.

    I think we need a “Fair Reputation Reporting Act,” to complement the Fair Credit Reporting Act. People should know the materials that decisionmakers rely on when they scrutinize applications for credit, employment, etc. Applicants should also have a chance to correct those dossiers, and to petition for new decisions if the dossier was seriously incorrect or misleading.

    The types of unfairness created by undisclosed or unfair reputation dossiers are traditional concerns of three bodies of law: antidiscrimination law, employment law, and fair information practices. None of these laws aspires to cover all human endeavors, and a Fair Reputation Reporting Act would need to be focused, too. Critical decision makers—those with the power to grant or deny applications for employment, credit, insurance, housing, and education—are a logical starting point for such a law. As these decision makers take into account new sources of aggregated information, it would be deeply unfair for applicants not to have a chance to review the digital dossier compiled about them.

    Business interests are likely to object to the obligations generated by such a review requirement. However, the same technology that makes so much information available presently can ease the transition to dedicated documentation. As storage costs decline and cloud computing becomes ubiquitous, a decision maker can use software to default to recording the online “leads” pursued as she investigates an applicant. Anyone who has seen a search engine’s “web history” knows how meticulous that documentation can be.

  2. Alan Sloane says:

    Reading the piece:
    “With enough people adopting the system, the act of entering a café can be different from one person to the next: for some, the patrons may shrink away, burying their heads deeper in their books and newspapers. For others, the entire café may perk up upon entrance, not knowing who it is but having a lead that this is someone worth knowing.”
    I was struck by a similiarity (intentional?) to Erving Goffman, wrinting in “Stigma” in 1963:
    “When a stranger comes into our presence, then, first appearances are likely to enable us to anticipate his category and attributes, his `social identity’ – to use a term that is better than `social status’ because personal attributes such as `honesty’ are involved, as well as structural ones, like `occupation’.” (p.11)

    What Goffman’s describing is a (social) system based on tacit and personal knowledge, while your scenario describes a (technological) one based on codified and external knowledge. One might suggest that “there’s nothing new here then”, but the shift seems significant to me – in the “old” system (or prejudice, if you like) such judgements were individual and amenable to reflection and amendment; in the “new” one, they’re systemic, not easily questioned or understood, and not amenable to individual revision.

    That “digital blank spot” would constitute the Millenial’s stigma!

  3. Ken Arromdee says:

    Normal bankruptcy works because when you have an old debt that is discharged by bankruptcy, and that old debt becomes invalid, the legal system will force companies to stop trying to collect it.

    With reputation bankruptcy, who is going to force companies to stop looking at old data?

  4. Ryan Androsoff says:

    Fascinating perspective on one of the big issues that society will have to grapple with and adapt to in the coming years. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a passage from an article entitled “The Virtues, the Unity of a Human Life, and the Concept of a Tradition” by Alasdair Macintyre that I read this past spring in a course on moral leadership being taught by your HKS colleague Marshall Ganz:

    “I am forever whatever I have been at any time for others – and I may at any time be called upon to answer for it – no matter how changed I may be now.”

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