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    Update: Sen. Rockefeller Asks Credit Card Companies About Behavioral Targeting Plans

    Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that credit-card companies Visa and MasterCard “are pushing into a new business: using what they know about people’s credit-card purchases for targeting them with ads online.” For example, “MasterCard earlier this year proposed an idea to ad executives to link Internet users to information about actual purchase behaviors for ad targeting.” Now, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is investigating this issue and wrote to both MasterCard and Visa asking about the report. MediaPost reports:

    “As a general matter, I am already concerned that privacy protections afforded to American consumers in the commercial marketplace are inadequate, whether they are surfing the World Wide Web, using their smartphones, or shopping in their local supermarket,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said Thursday in a letter to Visa CEO Joseph Saunders.

    “Allegations that Visa is contemplating a combination of information databases — heretofore unconnected — that would allow the company or nonaffiliated parties to build and maintain detailed consumer profiles of unprecedented proportions raise new concerns.”

    Rockefeller sent a similar letter to MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga. The move stemmed from an article this week in The Wall Street Journal stating that MasterCard plans 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.” […]

    “What is MasterCard currently contemplating with regard to combining customer purchasing data with other exogenous data sources, such as information from social networking sites,” Rockefeller asks in the letter to Banga. (The letter to Visa’s Saunders poses a similar question.) The lawmaker also wants to know what kind of information the credit card companies collect about their customers’ purchases, and how the financial companies intend to ensure that data about customers remains anonymous.

    A MasterCard spokesperson said the company doesn’t receive cardholder names or contact information with transactions, and doesn’t link anonymous information to individuals. “MasterCard is confident that we are in a strong position to address Senator Rockefeller’s concerns,” the spokesperson said in an email to Online Media Daily.

    Visa also said in a blog post on Thursday that the data it receives when processing transactions is anonymous and that any “trend data” it offers to marketers in the future won’t include users’ personal information.

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