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Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America (Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism) Hardcover – July 25, 2017
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Who deserves credit? Who is a prime borrower, and who is subprime? The stakes of these questions could not be higher: loans are essential to the education, transport, and housing of millions. Lauer has written a compelling history of how businesses assess creditworthiness, from nineteenth-century trade associations to contemporary data science mavens. Lucid and packed with fascinating detail, Creditworthy is an essential guide to the intersection of finance and surveillance. (Frank Pasquale, University of Maryland)
Clearly written, well researched, and wide ranging, Creditworthy provides a fresh account of the evolution of credit agencies in the United States. By combining insights from business history and cultural studies, Lauer probes the sometimes unsettling role of corporate surveillance in the making of financial identity. (Richard R. John, Columbia University)
At last! A book that drills down into the history of consumer credit-scoring and demonstrates its massive contribution to our daily experience of contemporary surveillance. Not just a vital chronicle of a hitherto hidden history but a principled account of what happens when human value is reduced to monetizing consumer details. Creditworthy penetrates to the core of contemporary capitalism’s disturbing obsession with personal data. (David Lyon, Queen's University, Canada)
Consumer credit reporting is ubiquitous, but its pioneering role in the surveillance of consumers has been poorly understood―until now. Josh Lauer has dug deep into the historical sources and marshaled his findings into a rich and cohesive narrative that encompasses business dynamics, social norms, technology, and regulation. This book will become the indispensable source on the history of both consumer credit reporting and the surveillance society. (Rowena Olegario, University of Oxford)
Josh Lauer has written an important book for anyone interested in the history of consumer credit. Long before there were FICO scores, consumers' creditworthiness was being assessed and considered. Without the developments Lauer documents in this notable work, it is unlikely consumer credit would have exploded as it did in the early twentieth century. A must read! (Martha Olney, University of California, Berkeley)
[A] fascinating study of the credit-rating industry’s central role in creating the 'modern surveillance society.' . . . Lauer’s top-down economic history is a thorough, enlightening, and long-overdue contribution to the field. (Publishers Weekly)
About the Author
Josh Lauer is an associate professor of media studies at the University of New Hampshire. His historical studies of communication technology, surveillance, and financial culture have appeared in Technology and Culture, New Media & Society, and several edited collections.
Top customer reviews
The book takes the reader through American history from the perspective of credit bureaus. Starting out in the 100’s, the credit service provider field has now been narrowed down to 3 major players, Equifax, TransUnion, and TRW. Everyone is probably familiar with Equifax as it was recently in the news for a database breach. Personal information, social security numbers, and driver license numbers from 143 million American consumers was stolen. Equifax, who earns millions of dollars from the sale of consumer financial information, has, to date, avoided financial liability to the people whose credit reputations have been compromised.
Information from credit bureaus is useful to credit providers. Having worked as a credit manager of a major bank, I know how that credit information is ordered and used every time that a new credit application is received, and annually thereafter until the debt is paid. Credit reports assist credit providers by helping them determine the likelihood that a debt will be repaid in a timely manner. If credit bureaus kept to the basic function for which they were designed, providing credit information to entities with a valid credit information needs, their usefulness would be indisputable. When credit applicants supply a bank or creditor with financial information, they expect that information to remain confidential.
Credit bureaus subsequently got into the business of selling mailing lists based using certain credit benchmarks that marketers provide. Those lists are then used to bombard consumer mailboxes and email accounts with credit card and loan offers. The selling of mailing list is a large money maker for credit bureaus. Historically according to Creditworthy, consumers were appalled when they found out that their payment information had been shared. Today, consumers accept that their payment information will be shared with credit bureaus. However, it is not a credit applicant’s intent that the information shared be taken advantage for the financial benefit of third parties to whom they made not credit request. This is misuse and that needs to be regulated. Creditworthy makes the point that the type of surveillance that credit bureaus engage in is something citizens of this country would rail against if done by our government. Yet they seem to accept it from institutions like credit bureaus that are accountable to no one.
Creditworthy’s release at this time was not planned to coincide with a data breach but it comes out with perfect timing. This is the book to read if you’re curious about what credit bureaus like Equifax do and how a company like that could amass so much personal information on American consumers without much notice.