The ultimate balancing act: Data, privacy and housing innovation

Experts at Fannie Mae’s InnovateHousing weigh in on future of homeowner data

Last Friday, Google announced its $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit. Immediately after was a deluge of articles from high-profile publications extrapolating what Google may have really purchased: health data of millions of Fitbit users. 

As users wearily eye the fitness tracker on their wrists this week, experts at the Washington Center for Real Estate’s and Fannie Mae’s InnovateHousing event offered a less-comforting look at the reality of data and privacy.

“You know, we don’t own our Social Security number, but we get royally disappointed when someone loses our Social Security number,” said Peter McLaughlin, a privacy and data security attorney at Womble Bond Dickinson. “And just to bring some, some cheer and frivolity to the conversation, basically almost everyone’s social security numbers are already on the dark web.”

McLaughlin said this Tuesday during a panel titled “The Future of Borrower Data and Housing Finance.” He was joined by a fellow panelist, Scott Hallworth, Fannie Mae’s chief data, modeling and analytics officer; and moderator Drew Meyers, the founder of Geek Estate Blog and Geek Estate Mastermind.

Together, they explored the topics of borrower data, including how it can be used and the challenges that come with it. The No. 1 challenge they presented was privacy. 

“The dynamic of where everybody’s mindsets are, I think, is massively different, and makes it incredibly difficult in terms of what is comfortable,” Hallworth said. “When you go on Amazon and you look up a product, if they don’t say ‘hey, other people like you bought these other things,’ you’re going to be downright upset.”

“But yet that’s not considered a privacy issue? And at the same time if I share something about someone who may be looking at a credit card they might react like ‘whoa, you guys are going too far and looking at my stuff here.’ But it’s okay I know what light bulbs and what security devices you have in your house? So where do you draw that line is what I find absolutely fascinating.”

McLaughlin agreed with Hallworth’s assessment that privacy is a murky area. 

“There’s no single definition of privacy,” McLaughlin said. “When there’s information about you, you want that information to be used in a way that you perceive as being responsible. And you want to have some level of control over that information, you know, even if you don’t own it.”

With smart homes on the rise and smart home upgrades even raising home values, the issue of data privacy will only become more prevalent. 

“I think that’s going to be the real challenging puzzle because of the most advancements in our technology, ironically are going to be about preserving privacy and preserving that anonymous nature,” Hallworth said. 

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