Oversharing Dangers

Meet Thomas Richards.  He’s my  newest, bestest friend.  I can tell you more facts about Thomas than I can tell you about some folks I’ve known for years. Mouse and credit cardsThomas, which isn’t his real name, is one of the lemmings who jumped on the Blippy bandwagon.  If you don’t know Blippy, the online service gathers your credit card, bank and other payments and publishes them online.

Using collaborative technology, the company allows you to create RSS feeds, invite your friends, follow each other, comment and so on. Think of Blippy as your personal Quicken file pushed to the web and shared with your friends. Now besides being a marketing treasure trove (any affiliate marketer can mine this data from Google or other search engines), the key issue here is privacy.

I’m still shocked at the number of people who insist that Facebook is ruining their privacy yet sign up for services like Blippy.  A year or two ago, I went to the hospital overnight for some tests.  I told three people outside my family.  But if I were a Blippy customer and set up my data feeds a certain way, everyone would’ve known. Let me know what I can tell you about Thomas.

  • First, that’s not his real name because I don’t feel like violating his privacy more than he has done.
  • He’s a software student at a well known tech college in the East and grew up in Detroit
  • I know the names of 10 people he follows and 9 who follow him (that’s what I call a nice open social graph)
  • I have detailed financial transactions from multiple merchants with direct feeds as well as multiple credit cards that show merchant name, date, amount and some other detail but maybe not exactly what was purchased.
  • As I write this, there are 459 financial transactions viewable for non-members using a search engine along with this guy’s real name.
  • And the names of his friends.
  • And he thoughtfully annotated some of his purchases.

Let’s talk dossier.  I know who he is and in about 10 clicks, found out his life’s history on LinkedIn and a few other sites. Then I used data he published to Blippy to learn:

  1. He’s a junk food addict.  Many 22 year olds are.   Buffalo Wild Wings is his favorite, but he’s at a junk food place at least every other day.
  2. He pays the minimums on the credit cards he’s hooked up to the site.
  3. He likes throwback music and is an active iTunes purchaser
  4. His hair cuts cost less than $20 (and buddy, you need to change that soon)
  5. Fueling his vehicle costs $40-$50
  6. He has an iPhone and actively buys apps
  7. He is taking calculus now and also bought an intro Flash book.
  8. He bought Esquire: The Man’s Guide to Looking Good and skipped the haircut section.
  9. He just bought tickets to see Wicked with his girlfriend Kathy.  (yes, I changed her name too)

Look, he’s pushing 500 transactions to the web.  And he used his real name.  And I know his tuition, his taxes, how much he pays on his credit card and all sorts of things.   This isn’t voyeurism.  If I mine his data along with the other public data, I can quickly find offers to sell him and craft offers to him via email, direct mail, Twitter or Facebook.  If the subject is:  Special for [town name] fans of [sport] and [music] and I micro-target 15 of these guys, my conversion rate goes through the roof.

If I automate that, I actually make money. A couple of simple scripts to scrape the public data, bounce it against other public data and I have a database of actual purchase history.  We’re not talking Facebook’s self-identified interests.  We’re talking real transactions.  The mind boggles at what a skilled marketer can do with this information. I love people who do this because they make my job easier, but for the love of all that’s holy to you, stop sharing your locations on Foursquare and Google Latitude, stop sharing your transaction history on sites like Blippy and stop whining about privacy if you’re living life in public.

6 comments

  • mjfrombuffalo

    mjfrombuffalo

    Reply

    Then there's the stuff you can infer – if he's paying $40-50 to fuel his car each time, you know it's a larger vehicle, and given his age and other behaviors it's easy to surmise it's an SUV.

    Or I've watched too many Criminal Minds episodes and think I'm a profiler.

  • George Bounacos

    George Bounacos

    Reply

    Absolutely. And if they have a good time at Wicked, maybe I can sell him the CD. Not only is the service just the height of narcissistic over-sharing, but he helpfully annotates comments like “Road trip with Joe and Kevin to go fishing”. Ah, so you're a fisherman too. Lovely.

  • Someone

    Someone

    Reply

    I call bullshit on this article.

    > He pays the minimums on the credit cards he’s hooked up to the sit

    There's no way to know that from Blippy

  • George Bounacos

    George Bounacos

    Reply

    You're right. There's absolutely no way to know. But when I see the monthly charges on the card and I see a payment for $75, I'm pretty confident in the assumption.

    More importantly, though, is the fact that anyone wants to broadcast their credit card and checking account charges. I really think it's a dumb thing. Can you imagine going back in a time machine 10 years ago and telling people that their friends would lifestream their finances?

    Call bullshit all you want. It's a horrible site, a rotten idea and I have to question the motives behind anyone who signs up for this service. If you participate, maybe you'll try to enlighten me and the readers because over on Facebook, I've got folks who know the web well who think Blippy is a blight.

    Remember the pushback on Mint? Mint was only 1 to 1 with the company (now Intuit) and privacy advocates were screaming. For that matter, consumers were screaming when Amazon first introduced Purchase Circles that had no personal identifying information.

    Are you a Blippy fan? If so, I'm totally interested in why.

  • Someone

    Someone

    Reply

    I call bullshit on this article.

    > He pays the minimums on the credit cards he’s hooked up to the sit

    There's no way to know that from Blippy

  • George Bounacos

    George Bounacos

    Reply

    You're right. There's absolutely no way to know. But when I see the monthly charges on the card and I see a payment for $75, I'm pretty confident in the assumption.

    More importantly, though, is the fact that anyone wants to broadcast their credit card and checking account charges. I really think it's a dumb thing. Can you imagine going back in a time machine 10 years ago and telling people that their friends would lifestream their finances?

    Call bullshit all you want. It's a horrible site, a rotten idea and I have to question the motives behind anyone who signs up for this service. If you participate, maybe you'll try to enlighten me and the readers because over on Facebook, I've got folks who know the web well who think Blippy is a blight.

    Remember the pushback on Mint? Mint was only 1 to 1 with the company (now Intuit) and privacy advocates were screaming. For that matter, consumers were screaming when Amazon first introduced Purchase Circles that had no personal identifying information.

    Are you a Blippy fan? If so, I'm totally interested in why.

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