Corinthian Colleges, Inc. employed algorithms to target vulnerable people in order to sell them overpriced University degrees

Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (CCI) was a giant in the for-profit university industry, owning colleges all over the United States and Canada. In 2013, California’s Attorney General (Kamala Harris) filed a lawsuit against the company for false and predatory advertising, intentional misrepresentations to students, securities fraud and unlawful use of military seals in advertisements (Office of California Attorney General 2013).  Not only were the degrees they offered overpriced, but according to the Harris complaint, the company targeted vulnerable groups like single parents, veterans returning from combat, and those with annual incomes near the federal poverty line. The DOJ obtained internal company documents that described the ideal demographic of the company as “isolated,” “impatient” individuals with “low self-esteem” with“few people in their lives who care about them” and who are “stuck” and “unable to see and plan well for the future” (O’Neil 2018). Corinthian Colleges, Inc. utilized algorithms in order to find vulnerable groups of people and aggressively market to them false information about the quality of their universities. This case underscores how algorithms can be used for predatory advertising through identifying at-risk groups, appraising their susceptibility to misinformation, and determining the most efficient way to exploit them. Often, this results in the reproduction of inequality and discrimination along socioeconomic lines.