Square accidentally exposes some customers’ personal info including divorces and doctors’ visits

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Like any online services, Square, a popular mobile payment service, can be prone to error.

And, as detailed in a report from the Wall Street Journal, sometimes that error means emailing receipts with sensitive information to the wrong person.

In the case of Teresa Smith who was interviewed by the Journal, that personal data included a receipt for a divorce attorney who had used Square to process a payment for a retainer. 

Instead of her own inbox, however, the receipt ended up in an acquaintance’s bin, reports the Journal. At this point, Smith had not yet told anyone of her decision to separate from her spouse.

‘I might as well have put it out on Facebook or took out a front-page ad in the New York Times,’ Smith said in the report. 

According to Square, which responded to questions from the Journal, Smith’s receipt was misdirected due to a previous transaction in which she provided a friend’s email address instead of her own, and while anomalous, is far from the only way receipts can end up in the wrong hands.

A Square spokesperson interviewed by the Journal said that many times receipts are sent to the wrong customers when people share credit card information — married couples are mostly prone to that pitfall — or sometimes, since Square also logs phone numbers, receipts can be sent to the users of recycled devices. 

According to emails obtained by the Journal that are referenced in the report, errant receipts can range from a ‘cup of coffee’ to a doctor’s office visit.

As reported by the Journal, Square sends hundreds of millions of receipts each year and is currently using a glut of data from its customers’ receipts to entice company’s looking to target ads and market products. 

Square has also started to use their ballooning number of receipts to let businesses market offers and other promotional material to customers, even if they’ve only patronized that store or restaurant once.

Sometimes, according to a recent op-ed published in Wired, Square receipts can cause backlash from customers even when they’re correctly associated with users. 

Often times customers are involuntarily signed up for email promotions without their knowledge which may lead to unwanted ‘spam’ in customers’ inbox. Square does offer an option to opt out of this feature, but by default anyone paying with Square is participating.

The Journal says that Square has used that marketing feature to help up-sell businesses using Square to process payments — the service starts at a rate of $15 per month. 

As for the misplaced receipts, Square says the occurrence is ‘very rare’ though it is usually the most serious complaint, with one spokesperson stating it result in ‘the most negative of all of the responses we’ve had from customers.’

According to subjects interviewed by the Journal, those complaints involving errant receipts may come for a number of reasons. 

Lucille Conforti, a florist, said sometimes spouses are notified of a surprise gift from their spouses who are using the same credit card — a situation that she says could actually be worse.

‘God forbid anyone was having an affair,’ she told the Wall Street Journal. ‘You’d see everything.’

 

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