An Amazon Bitcoin tracking patent has been granted, which describes tracking multiple datastreams, combining them and then selling the rich data produced. It specifically mentions Bitcoin which was designed to be untracked and anonymous.
Amazon suggest that each time a Bitcoin transaction takes place, the data associated with the transaction can be captured and correlated. For instance a Bitcoin address could be associated with a shipping address by online retailers and an IP or email address address by the telecom company and an account number by a bank. Once data starts to be connected, other data streams could become relevant such as connecting social media accounts to the IP address and thus the financial or shopping transactions. The idea is that by collecting data from multiple sources, supposed anonymous information could become relevant and identifiable and of course then correlated with other transactions using the same data points.
Potentially, for ecommerce, your holiday booking could be correlated with your social media images identifying the products you purchased on a marketplace and then used to suggest products and services you might wish to purchase upon your return.
The patent specifically mentions that law enforcement may be interested in this data to receive global bitcoin transactions, correlated by country, with ISP data to determine source IP addresses and shipping addresses that correlate to bitcoin addresses. Equally retailer might be interested in what products their customers purchase from other retailers enabling them to align marketing promotions with products they know for certain that their customers are interested in.
There are two ways to view this – one is that it’s incredibly intrusive and the patent, if put into production, could track every aspect of your life opening up serious privacy concerns, especially for data collected by overseas companies who operate under different regulations. The other way to consider the patent is that all the information is out there anyway – every time you log onto the Internet you leave your electronic signature and a trail that someone can follow. All the patent will do is to take this electronic fingerprint and gather the data into an easily accessible form.
Moral of the story, if you don’t want to be tracked online then don’t put anything on the Internet or perform any actions that you wish to remain private.