Anonymous Data in Credit Cards Are Still Traceable, Study Finds

April 5, 2015

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. accuracy /ˈæk yər ə si/ (n.) – the quality or state of being correct or exact
Example: The company questioned the study’s accuracy.

2. trace /treɪs/ (v.) – to find out or discover something by gathering information
Example: The researchers traced the right card owner through shop purchases.

3. metadata /ˈmɛt əˈdeɪtə/ (n.) – data or information that describes a main data
Example: The metadata they observed included the events’ time and place.

4. transaction /trænˈsæk ʃən/ (n.) – the act of processing something
Example: Our manager analyzed the recent transactions of the company.

5. parameter /pəˈræm ɪ tər/ (n.) – the scope or limits of how things should be done
Example: The parameters of the study were limited to population and age differences.


Read the text below.
A team of computer-security researchers concluded that credit card holders can still be identified even when their personal information has been hidden.

The researchers from the Massachusetts [mas-uh-CHOO-sits] Institute of Technology got more than 90% accuracy rate in tracing card users when other information like date and location of purchases are available. This is despite not knowing the users’ personally identifiable information (PII) such as account numbers, names, and other personal data.

The authors examined three-month’s worth of credit card records of 1.1 million users. The process, called re-identification, aimed to find an individual through metadata.  These data include transaction dates, shop names and locations, and prices. Also, the researchers gathered information from the transaction histories of 10,000 stores to estimate how many data pieces or transactions are needed to find a specific user.

The authors found that they needed only four transactions when using metadata on dates and shop locations. On the other hand, three transactions were enough if the metadata on prices are included. The inclusion of prices in the parameters also increased the team’s accuracy rate to 94%. In addition, the authors noted that women were more easily identified than men. Wealthier people were also easier to find because they frequently use their credit cards.

According to the researchers, the study proves that a credit card company’s data security may be inadequate. Private companies are known to benefit from users’ metadata. Information such as retail purchases can provide companies significant trends used in advertising and marketing campaigns.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         Will you avoid using a credit card after knowing the study? Why or why not?
·         How important is it for credit card companies to ensure their users’ privacy? Please explain.

Discussion B

·         How do you think owning a credit card can change one’s lifestyle?
·         What are the bad effects of using a credit card?

April 5, 2015