The birds of fast-paced innovation have come to roost in the compromising technology-related events that we’ve witnessed over the last 36 months. Collectively, these mark the dissolution of the orders that have defined many aspects of our daily lives. No longer the naive promise of a boundless internet; we are standing by helpless as we watch the betrayal of our most sacred, intimate values by the very companies and institutions that promised us the holy grail of efficiency, quality and no fees.
In the recent article, “Venmo: how the payment app exposes our private lives” from the Guardian is research that analyzed millions of public transactions on Venmo, the US social payment app, to show just how much the app reveals about people’s lives, financial transactions and personal habits.
The interesting aspect of articles like these is how they bring into focus just how desensitized we have become to sharing, oversharing and passively allowing for the marketing of our personal information. And not just our personal information—but our most personal and intimate financial information.
The article highlighted real user data, and without exposing the people’s names, it clearly shows how so many people have lost all fear (or possibly knowledge) about the dangers of socially exposing transactions and full conversations.
The author tracked a cannabis dealer who accepted 920 transactions in 2017 and who also started paying someone a salary within the same year (additional manpower). And even more scary, she highlighted a conversation between a man and a woman that clearly showed signs of stalking and harassment, which led the author to wonder how many domestic abuse survivors were putting themselves at risk, without even realizing it.
It’s still shocking to realize just how thoroughly we all have agreed to the demolition of the huge barriers and gates that used to protect us from companies trying to access consumer data. With the public data available, the author was able to sync each transaction with a full, real name and profile of each person in great detail (what they like to eat, where they hung out, their purchasing habits and at what frequency). Needless to say, companies looking for behavioral patterns can have a ball with this data source, law enforcement could be getting a free cheat sheet to connect people with illegal activity and stalkers now have a new tool for keeping tabs on an a victim.
But let’s momentarily disregard the marketing and voyeuristic implications and really think about what companies could actually do with this information and how that could impact your life.
What if a recruiting firm starts scraping this data and determines that the three nights in a row you paid a friend for drinks just doesn’t align with their cultural values?
Or an insurance company sees that you eat fast food three times a week and decides that you should have a higher premium?
Or a bank starts using this data as a way to check if you’re fiscally responsible before approving your loan?
Sharing on social isn’t new, nor am I saying that it isn’t valuable or in some forms acceptable. But sharing how you spend your money with the world? That’s a whole new form of dangerous (Big Brother, anyone?).
We have to get in front of this before it’s no longer an exception to the rule. When it comes to your financial transactions, privacy should be the default. Always.