Monday, November 21, 2005

Is Big Brother watching?

Sara Gates, Sun's "VP of Identity," recently posted a blog entry relating a recent credit-card transaction. Seems she was in Australia, bought a necklace and the credit card company called her home number to report a "suspicious" transaction.

Something similar has happened to me numerous times, but the first was 20 years ago. At the time, I was IT mgr for a retail chain of video rental stores. We were opening a new store and the night before the grand opening the store's TV sets hadn't arrived. I offered to go to a nearby retailer (might have been a Sears) and buy three TV's so we could open on time. I used my corporate Amex card for the purchase. In those days, the clerk still called in to verify a large purchase and I was surprised when he asked me to take the phone. That's when the Amex representative asked: "Mr. Kearns? Why do you need three televisions?" I explained, and the purchase was approved.

Ten years ago, I was in Tangiers with my wife and we were buying oriental rugs. Again it happened to be an Amex card I was using. But in this case, the credit card terminal simply refused the charge and requested I call Amex! (fortunately for me, my Citibank MasterCard was accepted)

Some people will equate this with "Big Brotherism" - someone watching and evaluating all of your transactions. These same people ripped Google for putting context-sensitive ads in Google-mail. But what they fail to realize is that there is no longer a person evaluating the transaction - it's all done in software; no one is watching!

Still, the software does need improvement if Visa is calling a phone in Austin, Texas to verify a sale made in Australia!

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