Amazon Wins Patent on Method to Identify & Sell Private Data on Source of Bitcoin Purchases

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Amazon was awarded a US patent for analyzing the data stream coming from various data sources, to determine who has made a Bitcoin transaction. The data that the analysis provides may then be sold to subscribers, or shared with various government organizations, including law enforcement, tax collectors and regulators.

According to the patent, the invention would be a computer that is configured to organize streaming data from two sources. Each source would be of a different type, to facilitate correlating and combining them in a way that increases the utility of the first data source. A third data source may also be added. The resulting combined stream would then be published, and cryptographic tokens may be used to validate the steam’s authenticity.

According to the approved patent, developers may build applications that respond to data changes in near real time, at scale. The patent then uses Bitcoin transactions as its example use case. In this example, Amazon suggests that an internet retailer (such as Amazon) may combine the shipping address for an order with the Bitcoin transaction data to create a correlated data stream. This combined data may then be republished, and telecommunications providers may subscribe to the data stream, and correlate it with IP addresses to further enhance geographic data. Amazon then states that government agencies may subscribe downstream and correlate tax transaction data to identify transaction participants.

While this methodology is perfectly feasible, it presents real world privacy concerns. Ultimately, users who do not take the time to read through pages-long, and unreasonable privacy policies may believe that their transactions are private, when in fact their personal data is being sold to third parties, in a way that exposes even more personal information than the original transaction contained.

Besides tax collectors, law enforcers and regulators may also subscribe to such a service. Ed Snowden has already leaked information about the NSA placing a high priority on identifying global Bitcoin users. Supposedly this is to prevent terrorism, as well as to track and prosecute drug traders and money lauderers. One could think of the NSA method of data collection as brute force, where they intercept large quantities of data related to internet traffic, store it in data centers in Utah that are the size of football fields, and analyze it using systems like XKeyscore that are capable of dissecting email and other data.

Amazon’s method of exposing your private data appears to be much more elegant than the NSA brute force methodology. As such, it makes for a desirable commercial product that would arguably provide much further reaching results than anything delivered in the recent Cambridge Analytica controversy. Such data could be used not just by law enforcement, but by political actors looking to find dirt on their adversaries. It’s entirely possible that in the 2020 Presidential Election in the US, this Amazon product could be released, and one of the major political parties would pay top dollar for the information it contains.

Amazon already has a great deal of power. This is due to their having a superior platform, low prices and a great return policy. However, selling their customers’ data as part of a combined stream that’s designed to expose private information would magnify their power to the level of the most influential NGOs in existence today, and while such activity would be highly profitable, it may also have a significant negative impact on their core business as people become aware of how their data is being used, and sold.

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