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Visa, MasterCard may take offline buying history and drag it online for targeted ads

Oct 25, 20115 mins
Data and Information SecurityEnterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

Driving another stake in the heart of online anonymity, credit card companies want to tie your offline shopping history to your online life. How? By taking what they know about you, personal insight gleaned from your offline credit card purchases, and selling it to the highest bidder, so they can stalk you on the web and throw targeted online ads at you. Why? So they can profit at the expense of our privacy, of course.

Do you carry cash, or do you buy almost everything with a credit card, perhaps with a debit card backed by a credit card firm such a Visa? If you swipe plastic to pay, do you consider your offline transactions to be private or separate from your online life? If you use Visa or MasterCard, then those credit card companies know a great deal about you and would like to start using what they know about your personal purchasing history to throw targeted online ads at you.

There’s a whole bevy of potential ideas to rape and plunder your online experience based off your credit card buying history. Here’s one possible scenario: You super-size your meal at a fast food joint and swipe your credit card to pay, but when you get back to the office, you see targeted online ads about dieting and weight loss. Visa is even considering using your purchasing history to prioritize your search engine results! To that, I would say, “Oh no you don’t!” A dang credit card company deciding the priority of what search results I should see? Time to use cash or bitcoins.

Since behavioral ads are appearing on some online banking statements, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Visa and MasterCard would want to raid our online experience with our offline buying history. . . . the better to invade your privacy to make mega bucks off you, my dears.

Visa has filed a pile of patents “that provide a blueprint for using credit-card transaction data to target digital ads and personalize other content,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Not to be outdone in the exploiting-consumers’-buying- history scenario, MasterCard shared a presentation with several companies that claimed, “We have extensive data and analytics for enabling precise consumer targeting.” While those documents were “put aside,” MasterCard told WJS, “the strategy has evolved significantly” since April when the documents were created for “exploratory conversations.”

Another possibility Visa is considering is “to use cardholders’ anonymous buying histories, in aggregate, to tailor the ads people see online,” the WSJ reported. “That would let advertisers, for instance, show cat-grooming offers to people in one area, and dog-grooming ads to people somewhere else, based on the group buying behavior in the areas as a whole.” This is probably the least offensive of all the scenarios Visa is considering.

The abstract for one of Visa’s many patents, System and Methods for Closing the Loop between Online Activities and Offline Purchases, states configuring a computing apparatus to “facilitate the identification of a transaction resulting from an activity occurring in a substantially separate context or environment, such as an offline transaction in ‘brick and mortar’ retail store.”

What happens if someone steals your credit card? It’s not worth too much on the black market, but will you then be facing targeted ads from what cybercrooks shopped for with your card? Do you ever shop for someone else, someone sick or elderly for whom you buy articles that you would never buy for yourself? Do you really want those purchases, perhaps adult diapers or denture cream, programmed into your profile and tracking you with those targeted ads?

One of the ultra-creepy scenarios proposed by Visa includes building profiles with info scraped and gathered from all sorts of data sources like from DNA databanks, your social media sites, your insurance claims, points, miles and your budget, to name but a few, all done in order to profit and serve up targeted ads to you. WJS mentions other techniques Visa is considering to link Internet users to information about their actual shopping activities. I shudder at the invasive idea of DNA banks and insurance claims being included. In fact, it reminded me a bit of an ancient joke; here’s that flashback to the past:

Okay, so it’s not quite the same, but it still reminded me of potential future corporate greed to better profit and to hell with your privacy. Take what Google or Microsoft knows about you, from your email or online searches, and consider that Google previously partnered with MasterCard and Citigroup for mobile payments via NFC on Android smartphones. The blurry line continues to cross between our online and offline lives, so that some day that joke may be a bit like real life. In case you couldn’t tell, I have nothing nice to say about Visa and MasterCard’s “holy grail” idea to sell what they know about you from each and every swipe of plastic to pay for your transactions. To me, it’s like stabbing a knife into the heart of anonymity and decimating privacy by dragging our offline life online to better track and target ads. All of the patents are listed on WSJ.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.