We learnt recently via a The Verge article that Google and MasterCard had an agreement whereby all purchases using their cards would be sent to Google.
When an organisation does this kind of transaction it’s precisely because it feels there is value in the data. As we’re all aware, Google places importance on “personal” data in just about everything it does, going as far as tracking location despite users explicitly setting their phone to prevent such tracking, see this article in The Guardian. MasterCard says this data is anonymous and by extension not personally identifiable [or useful]. If this was totally true, the data’s intrinsic value would be reduced to be virtually worthless. Which begs the question, why doesn’t Google want it so bad ? I call BS.
What many do not know, and what Google and MasterCard are hoping that you don’t either, is that much of this data can be de-anonymized using techniques that are well within the realms of Google. Take a look how a couple of researchers were able to successfully de-anonymize data from Netflix during a competition hosted by Netflix called the Netflix Prize – https://arxiv.org/abs/cs/0610105
How come ? De-anonymized data doesn’t live in a vacuum, it lives in a world flowing — no gushing — with data surrounding it. The more there is, the more likely it is that de-anonymizing may turn up clues to help break the code and re-attach personally identifiable data back to what appears on the surface to be garbled junk. I suspect that Google pays handsomely for this data because it ‘knows’ it can re-attach information to its users giving it even greater shadow surveillance over its users.
They may not be doing this for nefarious reasons, sure, but this is certainly not buying a bunch of random data from a friend to fill an empty database in the datacenter. So, Google, MasterCard, stop treating us like fools and be more respectful with our information because at some point you will go too far and the results of which you’re unlikely to enjoy, most likely painful regulation by authorities tired of your fast and loose treatment of humans.
And that’s the point, there are real humans affected behind this, not just bots, serial numbers or tables in an SQL database.
Photo by Chris Ried on Unsplash