Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


American Express and Privacy

There’s a fascinating story at imedia connection, “Why Consumers Trust American Express:”

How has American Express retained its position? Kimberly Forde, an American Express spokesperson, told me that “American Express is very pleased to be recognized by consumers for its ongoing and strong commitment to privacy.” Moreover, she felt that American Express had done a lot to build consumer trust: “Trust and security have been the hallmarks of the American Express brand for more than 150 years. Our privacy program is a robust one that addresses the landscape of consumer concerns.”

American Express sees a return on promoting consumer privacy — that is, in making “trust and security” a hallmark of the brand. What we can take away from this is that consumer privacy is becoming an added value for a company. This is to say that some organizations are starting realize that they can build customer bases by saying “we protect you from identity theft.”

I find this fascinating because its a company that’s using privacy to their advantage. I’ve expected that to happen for a while, and its nice to see it being presented in the media. It’s also fascinating because privacy here seems to be an assertion without data. Where are the supporting facts that show American Express cares about privacy?

But most interesting (to me) is that I see American Express as horribly anti-privacy. I remember when they bought Connection Machines to do data mining on their customers. I recall being turned down by Amex for a card because my address (a mail service) didn’t match their database of acceptable residential addresses. They wanted to see utility bills, or other things that told them where I really lived. Nah.
So my perception of Amex is quite different.

I’m guessing that this is another instance of different meanings of privacy: That consumers believe that Amex doesn’t sell data about their purchasing habits, where I’m concerned about what they collect, and the shadows of me that they confuse with the real me in making judgments. My data shadow wasn’t crisp enough for them, and so they wouldn’t loan me money. (It was decidedly crisp enough for others to extend credit on fine terms.)

(Via Chapell.)

2 comments on "American Express and Privacy"

  • allan says:

    When I was at CDT, we did a report on Gramm-Leach-Bliley compliance (for which I read over 100 GLB statements…) and AE was one of the few companies that didn’t just try to obey the letter of the law. As I recall, not only did they limit affiliate sharing, etc, but when we met with them they seemed very sensitive to customer perceptions and concerned about protecting their media image as a privacy-friendly company.

  • petrilli says:

    For whatever reason, WordPress isn’t sending trackbacks, but I posted a take on my blog, which is linked above.

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