The Snoop in Your Wallet

In a recent experiment with credit card privacy researchers bought a single banana, first with a fresh Apple Card, and then again using an Amazon Prime Visa Reward, issued by Chase. They then recorded the results of how credit card data was shared, mined, and who and when it was tracked. 

Going to a Target store, the banana swiped for twenty-nine cents. After the swipe (and making a breakfast of said banana) researchers began tracking how their banana purchase information wound up going not only to Target itself, but hedge funds, Google, Amazon, and a host of marketers anxious to peddle their banana-related merchandise. Card information, apparently, is considered desirable information, even when it involves nothing more than a piece of fruit.

The study found that credit cards are truly a ‘mole’ in everyone’s wallet. Every purchase, no matter the bank brand or credit card brand, whether Platinum or Premium or Rewards, leaks data to major companies, who in turn sell the information to other companies on a wholesale basis. In some cases, like the above innocent banana, the information obtained from that purchase become more valuable than the purchase price itself.

Banks have become aware of the growing consumer concern about their credit card purchase data being shared, bought, and sold, and are taking steps to counter that nascent customer irritation. The Apple card comes with a brief paragraph when issued that explains the boundaries Apple has placed on the data gathered each time a purchase is made. Turns out not to be a boundary so much as a piece of rope draped across the way. While companies are forbidden from selling information directly to marketers about specific consumer purchases, there is nothing that stops them from ‘profiling’ purchases by age, gender, and geographic location and then releasing this information to anyone they please.

Pretty much the same applies to the Visa Card used in the experiment. Except that specific delivery addresses when purchases are made online are sold directly to the highest bidder, making Visa’s claims of data privacy more farcical than factual.