Home > data science, finance, modeling, news, rant > Short your kids, go long your neighbor: betting on people is coming soon

Short your kids, go long your neighbor: betting on people is coming soon

September 2, 2013

Yet another aspect of Gary Shteyngart’s dystopian fiction novel Super Sad True Love Story is coming true for reals this week.

Besides anticipating Occupy Wall Street, as well as Bloomberg’s sweep of Zuccotti Park (although getting it wrong on how utterly successful such sweeping would be), Shteyngart proposed the idea of instant, real-time and broadcast credit ratings.

Anyone walking around the streets of New York, as they’d pass a certain type of telephone pole – the kind that identifies you via your cell phone and communicates with data warehousing services and databases – would have their credit rating flashed onto a screen. If you went to a party, depending on how you impressed the other party go-ers, your score could plummet or rise in real time, and everyone would be able to keep track and treat you accordingly.

I mean, there were other things about the novel too, but as a data person these details certainly stuck with me since they are both extremely gross and utterly plausible.

And why do I say they are coming true now? I base my claim on two news stories I’ve been sent by my various blog readers recently.

[Aside: if you read my blog and find an awesome article that you want to send me, by all means do! My email address is available on my “About” page.]

First, coming via Suresh and Marcos, we learn that data broker Acxiom is letting people see their warehoused data. A few caveats, bien sûr:

  1. You get to see your own profile, here, starting in 2 days, but only your own.
  2. And actually, you only get to see some of your data. So they won’t tell you if you’re a suspected gambling addict, for example. It’s a curated view, and they want your help curating it more. You know, for your own good.
  3. And they’re doing it so that people have clarity on their business.
  4. Haha! Just kidding. They’re doing it because they’re trying to avoid regulations and they feel like this gesture of transparency might make people less suspicious of them.
  5. And they’re counting on people’s laziness. They’re allowing people to opt out, but of course the people who should opt out would likely never even know about that possibility.
  6. Just keep in mind that, as an individual, you won’t know what they really think they know about you, but as a corporation you can buy complete information about anyone who hasn’t opted out.

In any case those credit scores that Shteyngart talks about are already happening. The only issue is who gets flashed those numbers and when. Instead of the answers being “anyone walking down the street” and “when you walk by a pole” it’s “any corporation on the interweb” and “whenever you browse”.

After all, why would they give something away for free? Where’s the profit in showing the credit scores of anyone to everyone? Hmmmm….

That brings me to my second news story of the morning coming to me via Constantine, namely this TechCrunch story which explains how a startup called Fantex is planning to allow individuals to invest in celebrity athletes’ stocks. Yes, you too can own a tiny little piece of someone famous, for a price. From the article:

People can then buy shares of that player’s brand, like a stock, in the Fantex-consumer market. Presumably, if San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis has a monster year and looks like he’s going to get a bigger endorsement deal or a larger contract in a few years, his stock would rise and a fan could sell their Davis stock and cash out with a real, monetary profit. People would own tracking or targeted stocks in Fantex that would depend on the specific brand that they choose; these stocks would then rise and fall based on their own performance, not on the overall performance of Fantex.

Let’s put these two things together. I think it’s not too much of a stretch to acknowledge a reason for everyone to know everyone else’s credit score! Namely, we can can bet on each other’s futures!

I can’t think of any set-up more exhilarating to the community of hedge fund assholes than a huge, new open market – containing profit potentials for every single citizen of earth – where you get to make money when someone goes to the wrong college, or when someone enters into an unfortunate marriage and needs a divorce, or when someone gets predictably sick. An orgy in the exact center of tech and finance.

Are you with me peoples?!

I don’t know what your Labor Day plans are, but I’m getting ready my list of people to short in this spanking new market.

  1. September 2, 2013 at 8:21 am

    FWIW, this was unsuccessfully tried before in Hollywood at http://www.hsx.com — see http://nymag.com/movies/theindustry/67275/

  2. September 2, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Couple that with the British trash cans that track you as you walk by … http://www.vosizneias.com/138567/2013/08/12/london-uk-bars-trash-cans-from-tracking-phones-of-passers-by/

  3. benfitzg
    September 2, 2013 at 9:32 am

    I already short my kids – and I *know* I’m going to win. I’m demanding they take on enormous debt via education and housing (it’s state backed!!!!! hehe) to prop up the economy so I can retire on a non-fully funded pension! Awe yeah…

  4. Nimbus
    September 2, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    What about a politician’s long term valuation? If we trade 30 years ahead on the policies implemented by our politicians, then we be able to actually force them to take the right (long term) decisions today. What else do you need in politics?

  5. Christian Killin
    September 2, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    David Bowie securitized himself some years ago. You could actually buy Bowie bonds at one stage!

  6. September 2, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    So I’m really curious on how this might work at parties say for instance a munch I might go to with a ‘friend’. I wonder how that might affect my rating with others at the munch or how the munch might affect my rating afterwards. :) I can see so many ways to manipulate this it would be just so fun. It opens up a whole new world of data cons. So when you say go long you should say go the long con.

  7. DAB
    September 3, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    The idea behind Fantex sounds a lot like prediction markets as espoused by Robin Hanson: http://hanson.gmu.edu/ideafutures.html

    I’m not being purposefully dense here, but I don’t see, on the face of it, what’s so bad about taking bets on people’s futures. Let’s take the example of taking bets on whether people’s marriages will end in divorce or not. If enough people participate in this betting market, we could accumulate enough information to see trends on what kinds of marriages tend to fail and succeed. This kind of information coming from a betting market will be more transparent and useful than listening to advice columnists or journalists who might or probably dish out marriage advice based on projection or wishful thinking. In other words, a betting market on marriages will crowd out the b.s. and “force” the truth, however much we don’t like it, to emerge.

  8. Ned
    September 4, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Well the acxiom site is up now. Their sign-in form looks like a joke! Name, Address, Email, the last 4 digits of SSN…maybe they need all that to find you in their records, but given the inaccuracies others are reportedly getting in exchange for their direct information, it seems a bit phishy.

  9. John
    September 4, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    I went in and looked at my data… it’s really “off”. I opted out of everything. The website looks like a phishing site.

  10. constantinecostes
    September 5, 2013 at 2:28 am

    The Policy Analysis Market ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Policy_Analysis_Market ) is an example of a failed attempt at human futures markets. It was portrayed by opponents as allowing to bet on assassinations; just think for a moment what ghastly form market manipulation could take in these circumstances. Shortly after it became widely known, it was shut down and led to the retirement Admiral John Poindexter, who is perhaps best known from his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal.

  11. Mark
    September 5, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    I haven’t done this (yet?), but I’ve been here: https://aboutthedata.com/portal , and just as I had suspected, they start by asking for more info on you so they can then tell you some little bit about what they already know. There is no winning in an intrinsically phishy world.

  1. September 3, 2013 at 2:00 am
  2. September 3, 2013 at 2:07 am
  3. September 10, 2013 at 6:51 am
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