The Data Mine

Here’s an example of a way data gets used in seemingly innocuous ways, but is concerning for privacy nonetheless: Years ago, I had a Mint account, which I’ve long since abandoned. I still get periodic emails from them, and yesteday I recieved a “year in review” style email. In it, it referenced the following:

Streaming services spending:

  • $314M to Netflix
  • $166M to Hulu
  • $47M to Sling TV

It also broke down how much Uber was utliized compared to Lyft, and which food delivery services were used the most (Grubhub, Uber Eats, Doordash), also with their respective totals.

I’m sure they’ll couch this as data being “anonymized”, so it’s “private” in terms of not being able to tie some data specifically to you the individual. All the same, these types of data mining show clearly that using certain services like this afford the companies providing the service to see just about everything you pull into the service.

Sure, a “year in review” is looking at trends and is trying to be cute about it, but this is almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg. Mint is a free service to users, and the service’s business model used to rely solely on affiliate links for services purchased from users within it. That seems to be still the case, on the surface, but it’s not a hard leap to imagine that plenty of large companies would love to know more about how they’re doing among competitors.

it’s exactly this sort of information that should be kept fully private. This sort of information has no business being aggregated when the service, ostensibly, is supposed to help an individual budget and get a clearer picture of their finances. This makes me happy that I pay for YNAB, who has so far sent only information about education they provide, and ways to learn how to more effectively use their system.