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In the world of global money and finance we have seen recent changes that few could have predicted just a couple of decades ago. Major banking institutions scrambled after the 2008 financial meltdown for ways to make a more secure means of money transfer with reasonable lending practices.
Out of that global scare came the concepts of the Blockchain and cryptocurrency. Initially designed for secure transactions, it quickly became a means to transfer moneys for the underground economy. But now with more popular acceptance, and a slow process of global regulation, it appears that this new, confusing technology is getting the credibility many are hoping for.
And now an even bigger threat than the 2008 meltdown looms – a multibillion-dollar Silicon Valley giant is buying up your banking data in order to alarmingly expand the ever-growing personal data collection process.
Bloomberg reports that, after four years of negotiations, Google purchased a trove of credit card transaction data from Mastercard, allegedly for “millions of dollars.” Google then reportedly used that data to provide ‘select’ advertisers with a tool called “store sales measurement”, without disclosing where that personal data came from.
The tool can track how online ads lead to real-world purchases, and that extra data is designed to make Google’s ad products more appealing to advertisers. (Read: everybody makes more money this way.) The public was not informed of the reported Mastercard deal, though advertisers have had access to the transaction data for at least a year, according to Bloomberg.
In simple terms, what this means is that now Google knows about your money spending activities. Yes, that’s the “who, when, where, what, and why”. And more alarming, Google is reselling your financial data to others, most of which I’m sure you would object to knowing your spending habits.
This is a heck of a bombshell, when you think about it. Thanks in part to heavy government regulation, your credit card and banking data has long been private. If you wanted to spend $68 on a dinner with your sweetie on a Tuesday evening, that transaction was between you, your bank, and the restaurant. It now appears that Google has found a way to weasel its way into the data pipeline that connects consumers and their purchases. If you clicked on a restaurant ad while logged in to Google in the past year, and then dined at that restaurant with a Mastercard in the past year, Google knows about that, and uses that data help its advertisers stuff their coffers.
But when you consider everything else that Google knows about you, the proposition becomes more Orwellian. There’s no getting around the fact that Google becomes a more powerful, all-seeing ad engine when it can see specific details about people’s spending habits, even if they’re anonymized and used in aggregate, as Google says the data is. This future—one where your email, your search history, your social connections, and now, your spending habits—is one that we should really be scared of, say privacy advocates.
It’s not so much that Google has been using credit card data to help advertisers run more effective ads. It’s that Google is doing these things on a tremendous scale, and the full nature of what it’s been doing was kept secret. The reported arrangement between Google and Mastercard immediately drew comparisons to the recent saga of Facebook reportedly meeting with banks in an attempt to gain access to its users’ private financial data.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook wanted detailed financial information, like checking account balances and even individual transactions. Sources said that Facebook wanted to build chatbots for Messenger so that people could ask a robot simple banking questions, like their current checking account balance. Realistically, Facebook could be doing a lot more with that kind of data.
A Facebook spokesperson, however, said earlier this month that it doesn’t “use purchase data from banks or credit-card companies for ads.” That Facebook spokesperson also didn’t deny that the company was having conversations with banks to get detailed financial information about their customers. Facebook apparently just wants the world to know that such conversations, ‘if they happened’, don’t currently indicate an Orwellian ad engine. When asked to clarify these statements, Facebook did not respond.
Given the secrecy surrounding Google’s alleged Mastercard-assisted ad program, however, it’s hard to know what other tech giants are doing with our personal financial information. Amazon certainly knows a lot about the things we buy, and we learned earlier this year that the online retail giant was exploring the possibility of getting into the banking business itself. The Wall Street Journal has also reported that Amazon, like Facebook and Google, has had conversations with banks about gaining access to personal financial information.
There’s no indication that American tech companies hope to create a system of spying for the major banking entities, but Facebook reportedly did discuss the possibility of including social media data along with FICO credit scores when determining who should get loans. Facebook even patented a technology that would let banks analyze a person’s Facebook data when they applied for a loan. Facebook ultimately backed away from this idea, although it remains to be seen what tech companies could do with financial data behind the scenes.
So the bad news isn’t just that Google is using financial data to bolster its ad business. The worse news is that Google has reportedly been doing a significant part of it in secret, and other tech companies like Facebook and Amazon are exploring ways to get ahold of your banking data, too.
Perhaps the worst news, however, is what comes next. Will your Facebook activity affect whether you can get a mortgage in the future? Need a new car? Or a loan for your kids college? It seems possible that Google not only knows what you want to buy right now but also what you’re doing tomorrow, where you’re going, who you’ll see…..
All that said, the good news is that you don’t have to use Facebook or Google or Amazon. If you do choose to use them, there are easy ways to escape the grasp of data-hungry tech companies. You can install tools like the Privacy Badger to keep from getting followed around the web by invisible trackers. You can avoid staying signed in to Gmail or Google Chrome. You can use Firefox, Opera or Vivaldi instead. You can cancel your Amazon Prime membership. You can delete your Facebook profile. You can use cash when you shop.
You can wrap up your phone and laptop in a burlap sack, tie up the package with a sturdy measure of twine, and toss it in the nearest body of flowing water. As absurd as that sounds, there may come a day when that is the only way to guarantee your privacy.
Be Safe – Backup Your Data Regularly!
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