‘Anonymized’ Credit Card Data Not So Anonymous, Study Shows
by Seth Borenstein and Jack Gillum, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – Credit card data isn’t quite as anonymous as promised, a new study says.
Scientists showed they can identify you with more than 90 percent accuracy by looking at just four purchases, three if the price is included – and this is after companies “anonymized” the transaction records, saying they wiped away names and other personal details. The study out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published Thursday in the journal Science, examined three months of credit card records for 1.1 million people.
“We are showing that the privacy we are told that we have isn’t real,” study co-author Alex “Sandy” Pentland of MIT said in an email. His research found that adding just a glimmer of information about a person from an outside source was enough to identify him or her in the trove of financial transactions they studied.
Companies routinely strip away personal identifiers from credit card data when they share information with outsiders, saying the data is now safe because it is “anonymized.” But the MIT researchers showed that anonymized isn’t quite the same as anonymous.