Snapcash Could Bring Real Identity And Ad Targeting Data To Snapchat

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Snapchat doesn’t ask for your real name, but its on the debit card you use for its new peer-to-peer payments feature Snapcash. That could prove very lucrative for the ephemeral messaging service. Snapchat has just overhauled its privacy policy to allow it to collect additional identity information about users of Snapcash. We’ve also discovered code showing the feature can run an identity verification on a user’s real name, birthdate, and social security number through Snapcash partner Square.

Snapchat’s new privacy policy also details how the company deletes messages, provides ways to remove some data you provide it, and that it may out users for being under 18 years old if friends try to interact with them through features only for people 18 and up.

[Update 11/19, 11am PST: This article has been updated with info about Snapchat’s new privacy policy and code regarding identity verification checks]

Snapchat Privacy PolicyTo use the feature for sending friends money that launched today, users connect their debit card to their Snapchat accounts through a partnership with Square Cash. The real names, addresses, and account information associated with those debit cards can be collected by Snapchat, according to its new privacy policy that states, “In connection with Snapcash, we may collect a debit or credit card number or an image of the card, its associated account information, and any other security-related information.”

That info could potentially be cross-referenced with external databases of personal information to give Snapchat a much better idea of who users are and what ads they might want to see.

Snapchat’s new privacy policy seems to allow this, noting “We may share information about you with service providers who perform services on our behalf. With respect to jointly offered Services or functionality or services offered separately by other companies through our Services, we may share information about you with business partners to provide the Services and functionality you request and to communicate with you about those Services.”

Snapchat refused to comment on this story, and has made no hint that it’s planning this or has even considered it. But as its monetization efforts ramp up, it’s likely to leverage any data it can to make sure people aren’t seeing irrelevant ads or other promotions.

DEMO_02_SendCash-298610262All this is contingent on how Square Cash’s partnership with Snapchat works. However, Square Cash’s terms of service do permit “third-party advertising and analytics”, with legalese that likely grants it the freedom to cooperate with Snapchat for ad targeting.

Buried in the Snapchat Android app’s code is an identity verification check that queries a Snapcash user’s full name, birthdate, and social security number. The code connects to Square Cash’s servers, and fires if someone tries to send a total of more than $250 per week. Users agrees to that, according to Snapcash’s support page. Depsite some misleading code, the apps do use a webview so only Square Cash touches the answers to the verification questions.

Stanford student and renegade developer Andew Aude dug up the code, and he’s previously discovered important hidden code and images from Facebook Messenger payments and CurrentC. This code supports my conclusion that Snapchat could potentially use Snapcash to better understand people’s identities and market to them.

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Snapchat recently started showing ads
, but the problem is that it doesn’t know much about its users beyond their made up username, IP location, volunteered age, phone number, and who they watch on Snapchat Stories. It does get some name info from contact books. But without the targeting prowess of apps like Facebook and Twitter, it may be forced to stick with ads for things with broad appeal, like films. Its first video promo was for horror movie Ouija.

Snapchat Receive CashJust today, Snapchat hinted at how it could turn ephemeral ads into lasting relationships between businesses and users. After showing a short version of the Snapcash promo video, the Snapchat Team account direct messaged some users who watched it including Mat Yurow, “Like the video? Here’s the extended version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBwjxBmMszQ”.

But if Snapchat can layer on services like Square Cash that know more about their users, it could build up a better ad targeting system, all without forcing people to abandon their usernames or cough up personal info directly.

This kind of targeting info could make the difference between seeing a pointless ad for a restaurant chain with no locations near you, and an ad for a TV show that’s right up your ally. If Snapchat eventually got serious about ad measurement, it could even tell that you bought movie tickets using the same card connected to your account for a flick you saw a Snap ad for, allowing it to prove that ad worked.

Some might be weary of transacting payments with Snapchat following its security breaches. Others might be pissed Snapchat is starting to show ads or monetize all. But if it’s going to keep its messaging and payments services free, it needs to make money, and targeting data will make that a lot less annoying for everyone.