All The Ways Your Credit Card Use Reveals Personal Info

All The Ways Your Credit Card Use Reveals Personal Info
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If someone asked you why you use a credit card for everyday purchases like groceries, you might rattle off some combination of the convenience of paying the credit card bill later, consumer protection from potential fraud, or not having to carry cash or worry about your checking balance.

But, of course, there’s a tradeoff for all those benefits. Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler went on an urban expedition to demonstrate how credit card companies and their cronies sell your data.

In an exhausting tale involving two bananas, an Amazon Prime Visa card, and a hot-off-the-printer Apple Card (only available in the U.S.), Fowler pointed out six spots where your credit card use may be giving away more personal information than you might realise.

The card issuer

Credit card issuers are allowed to share your data with other companies unless you specifically opt out of whatever the default is, as outlined in the card’s privacy policy (more on that later).

The card network

Beyond the bank that issues your card, the card networks — think Visa and Mastercard — can take your info and anonymise it to sell “data insights.” “Visa said it allows clients to see data on populations as small as 50 people, often tied to groups in [area] codes,” Fowler wrote. That purchasing data could be used, for example, by a company that’s considering opening a store in your community.

The retailer

Every time you swipe a card, a store can add your receipt’s contents to your purchase history. Depending on the store, your data could be sold to, or, more ambiguously, “shared with” another company, Fowler pointed out.

The payment processor

You might not think much about the payment panel where you insert your card. But those payment terminals are also collecting your personal data. Some of that information can be stored as a customer profile, like on register tablets that remember where to send your receipt. These services may be compiling your purchasing history with others’ as a date set meant to be shared beyond that retailer.

Your mobile wallet

Left your wallet at home? That’s fine, you’ve got your phone. But if you don’t adjust your privacy settings, your mobile wallet could be sharing your personal info. Google Pay, for instance, can use your info to let other Google companies market to you, Fowler said.

Your financial apps

If you sync your spending to a budgeting app, that company may be aggregating your data with other users’ and selling it to a third party. U.S. app EveryDollar, for one, says it shares aggregated, anonymised data within its parent company, The Lampo Group.

How to opt out of all that credit card data sharing

At this point, it’s safe to assume that if you’ve signed up for a product or service, they’re sharing your data in some way. Maybe they’re selling it; maybe they’re using it for industry case studies. Thinking about all the ways you’ve traded your privacy for convenience could make you want to skip town and hide in a bunker.

But heck, maybe you’re willing to trade some of that privacy for the pleasure of making purchases more easily or getting some loyalty rewards. If you don’t plan to stop using credit cards anytime soon, there are a two steps you can take to limit what personal data is shared.

First up: credit cards are required to provide a method for opting out of data sharing. Check your card issuer’s privacy policy to find out how to get off their marketing lists. You may also need to ask the card networks to stop sharing your information. Contact your bank if you’re unsure.

Reining in your credit card data won’t keep your buying habits as private as say, using cash. But it may at least reduce the amount of “personalised” offers you find in your junk mail.


  • Thanks so much for this editorial. I have had enough of companies taking advantage of the digital world. Whether it is Google snooping, or web trackers. I will investigate my own credit cards, and if I find they were sharing anything ( even some digits of my card) with a third party I will take action; a new card number and the likes.

    They are not going to share my information whether it is part of their policy or not. They snuck the problem in, and in no way will they make it my problem. Foot firmly down.

    • Thanks Life Hacker. I have since contacted my banks. Asked them why they snuck into the privacy statements ” share with 3rd parties”. We know why; so they can make bucks with little outlay at customer’s peril.

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