Print Page Subscribe

Payments Perspectives Blog

Email page to a friend
Tweet this page
Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedIn
+1 This Page

Your Information Is On File

Nitin Sumangali |

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article detailing the practice of police forces and private companies using devices to scan auto license plates and creating databases of location information. What makes this story immediately newsworthy is that the cars need not be part of a criminal investigation to be logged in the database. What makes this story more interesting is how it fits into a larger narrative about the ways in which information is being collected about people every day.

The article notes that the average American has data collected about him in 20 different ways during the course of a day. This can include personal information from social networks, web habits from Internet browsing, geolocation information from mobile phone use, TV watching habits from cable television, and shopping behavior from loyalty cards and electronic payments. Consumers’ continued use of these services shows that either they are not aware of the scale of data collection being done, or they view them as simply the cost of doing business—an inevitable part of the connected society.

The story brings another ingredient to the mix however; while consumers may accept that loyalty cards keep historical records on their purchases and they can opt in as a way to receive benefits like discounts and coupons, it is less clear how people are opting in to have their whereabouts tracked via their license plates, or what the benefit is.

Given that consumers opt in to so many services that are collecting information on them, disclosure, trust and context are the keys to not upsetting people. As Virginia Rose, an 86-year-old resident of Riverside County, California, whose license plate has been captured by local police four times notes, “Not knowing about it makes me feel a little uneasy.” However, she also says, “Usually I go along with whatever police enforcement needs to do to keep us safe, so I figure they must have people stealing cars and that sort of thing.” Not everyone who is in the position to collect this type of data is in favor of it—the town manager of Norwich, Vermont rejected the grant for the plate readers saying “It went beyond my sense of what we needed to do to make us safer.”

In other words, trust and context are crucial to these systems. Understanding why information is collected and a sense of faith in the party holding the data inspires confidence, and is necessary to mitigate consumer distrust. The more consumers know about the data and the benefits, the more informed they will be to make their own decisions about how their data is collected and used.

Topics: Payments Strategy

Post a Comment