HANNOVER, Germany—Actively seeking out real innovators, especially at a massive trade show such as CeBIT 2014, can leave one feeling a little like Diogenes seeking an honest man. But perhaps it’s better to remember Diogenes as the cynic that he was. When I encounter companies claiming to be real innovators, I too want to find the honest man.
Fortunately, when I came upon the Code_n exhibit at CeBIT, much of my work had been already done. Code_n is a global competition that looked for the best proposals for 50 innovative companies to feature at the show. The Code_n organizers had sifted through hundreds of applications to find the 50 best and bring them to CeBIT, where the top innovator would be chosen. As I walked among the displays in Halle 16, I reminded myself that these companies had already been vetted.
In previous years at CeBIT, some of the reputed innovators displaying their wares looked liked kids whose high school science fair project didn’t make it to the finals. Not this year. I was finding actual innovation and, even better, some that looked useful.
Take Big Data Scoring, for example. This is a company that has figured out how to come up with credit scores for people and cultures where traditional credit scores are hard to come by or non-existent.
According to CEO Erki Kert, there are places where no unique identifier for a person exists, let alone a credit agency. Unlike in the United States, where everyone has a Social Security number and a file with the credit-reporting agencies, those numbers and agencies don’t exist everywhere, especially in developing countries. So the engineers had to find some agency that had the capability of having a unique identifier and some means of determining how responsible a person might be.
The source for that information turned out to be Facebook. Every Facebook user name is unique, and everything in a Facebook profile applies to that person only. The software looks at things as diverse as when you look at Facebook, what kind of items you post, who your friends are and what they’re like.
This means if you are employed, but your friends are not, then a lender might worry that you might adopt their habits. Likewise, the software looks at your profile, the kind of posts you put on Facebook, how many likes you have and how many likes you have on other people’s pages. Big Data Scoring was able to correlate the Facebook scores with data from the world’s major credit reporting bureaus to confirm its findings.