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    Wall Street Journal: Using Credit Cards to Target Web Ads

    The Wall Street Journal continues the series of in-depth reports, “What They Know,” about the state of corporate surveillance of consumers in the United States and how these surveillance programs affect individual privacy. These reports have discussed Web sites that have installed consumer-tracking tools; companies that gather data by “scraping” or copying Web sites, including private online forums such as PatientsLikeMe, where people discuss their medical problems; the amount of data that can be gathered from a mobile phone; and a consumer-profiling technology called “deep packet inspection.”

    Now, the Journal reports on another issue concerning targeted behavioral advertising that could substantially affect consumer privacy concerning their medical data as well as online and offline purchases: 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.”

    Their plans, if implemented, would represent not only a technological feat—tying people’s Internet lives with shopping activities—but also an erosion of the idea of anonymity on the Web. It’s an effort by the two companies to profit by selling access to the insights they gather about people with every credit-card transaction. […]

    In one particularly futuristic idea, a Visa patent application published this year describes incorporating information from DNA databanks, among other personal details, into profiles that could be used to target people 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.

    MasterCard doesn’t collect people’s names or addresses when processing credit-card transactions. That makes it tricky to directly link people’s card activity to their online profiles, ad executives said. The company’s document describes its “extensive experience” linking “anonymized purchased attributes to consumer names and addresses” with the help of third-party companies. […]

    MasterCard, which confirms its document was shared with at least four companies, now says it has “put aside” that idea because of restrictions over how financial-services companies can use customer data. The company says the document was created in April for “exploratory conversations.” […]

    According a Visa patent application published in April, the company sees potential to use a wide array of personal details to create profiles that could be used for ad targeting well beyond shopping details. It describes the possibility of also using “information from social network websites, information from credit bureaus, information from search engines, information about insurance claims, information from DNA databanks,” and other sources. […]

    People can remove their information from MasterCard’s analysis by providing their card number on the “Data Analytics Opt-Out” page at www.mastercard.us/privacy. A Visa spokeswoman said the company provides consumers with “notice and choice for products that use their personal information.”

    The Journal has three related articles with more information:

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