Earlier this year, Visa announced a U.S. program – called “Real Time Messaging” – that uses cardholder information with their permission to send them offers and discounts directly to their cell phones. The service is made possible because of Visa’s unique ability to use its insights and technology to integrate card use, location and proximity – an ability that is core to the underlying Visa network offering. But it only became real because customers said “yes” to the opt-in service. There are now 14 U.S. merchants signed up for this program, because it promises to deliver real value to their businesses.
Why is this worth repeating now? Because in an age of “big data” and privacy concerns, there is understandable concern about how payment card data is put to commercial use. This concern was undoubtedly reinforced by a speculative Wall Street Journal article on Tuesday.
So let me share our perspective to bring some facts into the conversation. Privacy is top of mind for consumers – and it’s top of mind for us, too. As our CEO Joe Saunders stated in the earnings call earlier in the week, Visa is “100% committed to maintaining the highest standard of security and privacy with this [cardholder] information. And of course, account-specific information will only be used with direct consumer permission.” It’s this commitment to safeguarding customer data that has helped us become one of the world’s most trusted brands.
It’s important to understand the Visa system is anonymous. When processing a Visa card transaction, we only see transactions associated with a 16-digit number – we don’t have access to cardholder names or Social Security numbers. The information we are entrusted with is needed to facilitate a cardholder’s transaction and ensure a merchant gets paid. Additionally, that information is used in the fight against fraud.
Like any innovative company, we consider a lot of ideas for future products and take action to protect them, as evidenced by our exploratory patents. As we evaluate turning concepts into real products, you can be assured they will meet the same privacy and security standards as those products and services you already trust and know. Trend data will contain no personal information, and transactions are aggregated. What might this look like? Well, our data might show that consumers in ZIP code 94404 spend more in auto repair shops than in surrounding zip codes. And, when Visa offers a product that uses account-specific information associated with a known consumer, such information will only be used with direct consumer permission.
The Bottom Line: Our business is based on the trust of the people who use our network. No trust, no network. So whatever the future holds, we will continue to work to maintain the high standard of security and privacy that we have always followed as we handle transaction data. We have done a good job earning the trust of users to date, and we intend to keep it that way.
Posted by: Russell Schrader, Visa Chief Privacy Officer on October 27, 2011 at 2:14 pm