Facebook, Octopus card and privacy issues

While the buzz about the potential risks of owning a Facebook account hasn’t subsided, similar concerns have started to emerge outside the confines of the online world. The ubiquitous Octopus card has been a constant companion for 95 percent of Hong Kong people as a popular way to use when shopping at retail outlets or traveling on public transport system. In fact, its use would extend even beyond the border as the card can soon be used on financial transactions in Shenzhen. Its 11 million daily transactions valued at over HK$100 million easily makes it the world’s most widely used smart card system.

Each smart card may contain personally identifiable information such as name, date of birth and Octopus usage data. Therefore, it is possible for Octopus to be able to identify my buying habits, which shops I frequently use the card and other information that can be more useful to Octopus’s partners for marketing and promotion purposes. 

If I visit Burger King’s Causeway Bay outlet every day and order Whopper Jr. using my Octopus card, that information could be used as a loyalty monitoring tool which could qualify me to a free Whopper Jr meal on my 21st visit, and that sounds like a juicy offer. But with that, we are looking at the positive angle. What if on the other hand, HSBC insurance gets hold of it and denies my application for health insurance for fear that my eating habits make me a health liability?

Octopus has been quite upfront about how it uses our information embedded on our smart cards

The personal data of the holder may be used for the following purposes: … d). Marketing of goods and/or services by us, our subsidiaries, our affiliates or any of our selected business partners. Maybe not for those who or short-term users but the 2 million who have personalized cards. 

Surely there are disadvantages of using Octopus cards, but I guess the benefits outweigh the risks and that may be one reason there are fewer complains about the smart card compared to an egregious looking phone bill from 3. Nonetheless, it is good to be vigilant so that opportunistic plans by unscrupulous individuals/businesses would be checked promptly. Otherwise, it might even be worse than the oft-ridiculed Facebook privacy policy.