Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Every Credit Card Transaction Leaves a Trail of Data Sharing

Geoffrey A. Fowler, Washington Post:

I recently used my credit card to buy a banana. Then I tried to figure out how my credit card let companies buy me.

You might think my 29-cent swipe at Target would be just between me and my bank. Heavens, no. My banana generated data that’s probably worth more than the banana itself. It ended up with marketers, Target, Amazon, Google and hedge funds, to name a few.

Oh, the places a banana will go in the sprawling card-data economy. Despite a federal privacy law covering cards, I found that six types of businesses could mine and share elements of my purchase, multiplied untold times by other companies they might have passed it to. Credit cards are a spy in your wallet — and it’s time that we add privacy, alongside rewards and rates, to how we evaluate them.

All of the possible touch points for a single purchase gives the surveillance economy plenty of opportunity to scoop up whatever information it can without your knowledge or explicit approval. Apple has been touting the privacy advantages of its credit card, but it really only secures two of the six categories identified by Fowler — and that’s fine. That’s about as much as they can possibly control without, as Fowler suggests, using a different card number for every transaction.

All of this is to say that people just aren’t protected from near-constant privacy intrusions. To do so requires a level of awareness bordering on paranoia. It means distancing yourself from the services of anything with an AC adapter. We’re increasingly aware that we live in a world that operates under the assumption that everything that can be tracked — and collected, associated, shared, resold, combined, and kept — ought to be.