Visa and MasterCard want to target advertising based on personal credit card transaction histories

I recently received a phone call from my bank. They suspected that my credit card was being used in a fraudulent fashion. The security question they asked? "In what county is 1552 Coastal Road." I was stymied. Then I remembered the address was of a college apartment I lived in over 25 years ago...before my mortgage, before I had credit cards, even before I used this bank. I was impressed by their sleuthing, but a little scared at the same time.

Financial intuitions have a very long arm into the personal details of our lives. And like any personal information, it can be used for good, or evil.

Here's a tale of the latter type.

Visa and MasterCard, the defacto credit card companies, want to use what they know about consumer credit card purchases to target you with online advertising. Going even deeper, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a Visa patent application published this year describes incorporating information from DNA databanks, social network websites, and credit bureaus, among other personal details, including insurance claims and online search engines activity into profiles that could be used to target people online. 

How far is too far? For financial institutions who know their consumers have little say in what they do, and how they act due to their overwhelming monopoly on the transactional aspects of our lives--the answer is "as much as we can get away with." Considering that Visa processes 45 billion credit- and debit-card transactions a year, and MasterCard collects details about the 23 billion transactions, they have a lot of data to exploit.

While it is true that the concept of anonymity on the web is a fallacy, how the holders of personal data use information about us is left up, in large part, to financially-driven corporations. How far is too far when it comes to how companies use our personal information?

Visa and Mastercard seem to think it is more than fine to use our personal data to profit by selling access to the insights they gather about people with every credit-card transaction.

Imagine if you went into a grocery store and bought snacks and pre-packaged foods? What would a fast-food company pay for that information, and the ability to market their products to what appears to be a predispositioned target? How about if you bought condoms at a drugstore, or worse yet, paid for your anxiety medication at a pharmacy? Where do you draw the line once you start exploiting consumer's personal behavior patterns?

This long-arm of consumer data by Visa and MasterCard is the first step in pulling offline data, and using it to market online.

MasterCard earlier this year proposed an idea to ad executives to link Internet users to information about actual purchase behaviors for ad targeting, according to a MasterCard document and executives at some of the world's largest ad companies who were involved in the talks. "You are what you buy," the MasterCard document says. While this document was "put aside" because of restrictions over how financial-services companies can use customer data. In otherwords, the governmental consumer protections put in place have had a positive affect, and stopped some evil-doers in their tracks--or at least forced them to search for loopholes to achieve their goals.

Clearly the financial instutions are the new cigarette manufactuers--caring little about consumer protection, and focused soley on profits, and stopped only by the law.

MasterCard is reportedly pursuing a plan to sell marketers an analysis of anonymous, aggregated data sorted into marketing "segments," such as people with a high propensity to be interested in international travel. MasterCard said its plan is "completely new to the industry" and that it still is working through the details of how it will work.

Visa is also reportedly pitching the ability to use cardholders' anonymous buying histories, in aggregate, to tailor the ads people see online.

People can remove their information from MasterCard's analysis by providing their card number on the "Data Analytics Opt-Out" page at A Visa spokeswoman said the company provides consumers with "notice and choice for products that use their personal information."

In that consumers are nearly required to carry a Visa or MasterCard in today's society (try renting a car or checking into a hotel without one) consumers need to be aware that these companies are doing everything they can to profit off of them, with the only apparent conscious being governmental regulation.

Stay safe, dear customer.

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