A joint investigation by radio station NDR Info and Die Welt newspaper unearthed internal papers about the establishment of a “Schufa Lab” research group to work out how to link information found on the Internet with other details about personal credit rating.
Schufa is a privately-held credit bureau – by far the biggest in the country. It confirmed cooperation with the Hasso-Plattner Institute for software systems technology (HPI) in Potsdam on the project.
Ideas which will be discussed and examined include using profiles on services such as Facebook, Xing and Twitter in order to get addresses, Die Welt reported on Thursday. Property rental and sale sites such as immoscout24 or mobile.de could also be used, the paper said.
The statistical linking of particular personal characteristics to ability or willingness to pay off loans could also be part of the research, while detailed information will be gathered in the huge data trawl.
Both the HPI and Schufa stressed that the research would be conducted according to the highest ethical standards, and that everything would be published after a three-year work period.
The more concrete plans of Schufa were contained in a second paper, Die Welt said. This included the idea that, “Information generated from the web would be linked by Schufa with other information and analysed from a business perspective.”
Consumer protection and data protection groups are furious. “There is always a reason behind such research projects. If Schufa actually uses such data, it would be a completely new dimension,” said Thilo Weichert, data protection commissioner for Schleswig Holstein state.
“People who are on Facebook do not think that what they say there could one day be influential in their credit status. That crosses a line,” said Edda Castelló, data protection commissioner in Hamburg.
Schufa's consumer advisory council said on Thursday afternoon it had not been informed of the plans - and that it was less than enthusiastic about them.
"We are disconcerted to find that the the contents or aims of this project were not discussed with the advisory council ahead of time," read an email sent by five of the council's 15 members to Schufa's managing director Michael Freytag.
They called for Schufa to urgently lay out exactly what it plans to do.