News Data Dive: Target, Bitcoin And Venmo

Data Dive: Target, Bitcoin And Venmo


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Facebook and Libra won the lion’s share of headlines this week, as it seems everyone who is anyone is payments and commerce was either joining up or offering their ideas on the project. But there was plenty of action below the fold this week as well, with a few notable players having something of a bumpy week. Sometimes it was a bounce up, but more often the turbulence marked a slowdown on the path.

The most frustrating version of that story was at Target, where reportedly another player’s glitch rapidly became the retailer’s weekend headache.

NCR Hiccups and Target Halts

Target endured a 90-minute register outage on Sunday, June 16, leaving the retailer unable to process cards or any other form of payment in its stores across the entire chain.

The snag, unsurprisingly, caused long lines and consumer complaints — and was explained by Target as a hiccup in its payment vendor NCR’s data center that had adversely effected the store.

There was a separate glitch on Saturday (June 15) which the company said was not related to the Sunday one. The Saturday outage was called an “internal technology issue” that didn’t let customers in the U.S. pay for things they wanted to buy in the store. Neither issue, according to Target, was related to data security, and all consumer data remained safe secure and private.

The issue, according to reports, was similar in nature to a payment processing problem the retailer experience in 2014.

Still the time of the outage was not great, as it followed the announcement that Target is making same-day delivery though Shipt available to all of its shoppers. The move comes as Target is looking to compete more aggressively with Amazon and Walmart in an ongoing bid to provide customers with the quickest delivery service.

Walmart and Amazon both recently announced options for next-day delivery as well, and Walmart said it planned to reach 75 percent of all American shoppers with quicker shipping by the end of next year.

Less than perfect timing to announce one’s entrance into a race where everyone is always leveling up — and then proceeding to make headlines for big blocking and tackling errors like payments processing blinking out not once, but twice, in the same 48-hour period.

Bitcoin Booms — Thanks to Facebook’s Libra

The crypto community itself may be split on the emergence of Libra, the blockchain-based cryptocurrency system dreamed up by Facebook, but the announcement seemed to be good for bitcoin traders — at least so far.

Bitcoin gained in the neighborhood of 12 percent this week, with bitcoin breaking $10,000 by the end of Friday.   The last time bitcoin got close was about a year ago in May 2018 — but it never managed to quite close the gap.  Moreover, some experts argued, Bitcoin’s relative strength index, which shows general price trends, shows that the token is close to overbought levels.

But by Sunday afternoon, bitcoin had cleanly broken $10K, and was heading to $11K at $10,700. Bitcoin enthusiasts believe this time the bounce will go higher — and not stop at $20K as it did in December of 2017.

And while bitcoin got the biggest bounce, the news was good for crypto as a whole it seems.

“Facebook’s entry into the crypto space perhaps signifies the biggest network potential for digital currencies, capable of reaching into billions,” Christel Quek, chief commercial officer at mobile streaming platform Bolt Global, said in the report, adding it “indicates an upcoming shift in mainstream finance; this may see further revival and growth of digital tokens this year, as more developments emerge.”

Ether picked up about 4 percent while Litecoin jumped about 6 percent on the Libra news.

Whether Facebook’s Libra is ultimately a good or bad thing for bitcoin remains to be seen.

But while team crypto was celebrating this week, team Venmo was dealing with a new headache.

Venmo the Victim of a Public Service Scraping

A computer science student on a mission managed to scrape about 7 million Venmo transactions as part of a plan to demonstrate just how easily public activity can be stolen.

Dan Salmon said he scraped the transactions over the course of six months to prove to users that they need to set their Venmo payments to private as opposed to the public setting that is there by default. The move comes a year after privacy researcher Hang Do Thi Duc downloaded 207 million Venmo transactions to prove a similar point.

“There’s truly no reason to have this API open to unauthenticated requests,” Salmon told reporters. “The API only exists to provide like a scrolling feed of public transactions for the home page of the app, but if that’s your goal then you should require a token with each request to verify that the user is logged in.”

Thus far, Venmo has not responded to these mass downloads — or made much in the way of changes to its security. It has changed its privacy guide and updated its app to remove a warning when users went to change their privacy settings from public to private. According to reports, the firm has also put more tools in place to make the data more difficult to scrape, including imposing limits on its API.

But Salmon was still able to scrape 40 transactions per minute, which was about 57,600 scraped transactions each day.

The complaints come less than a year after Venmo parent firm PayPal had to settle with the FTC over privacy and security violations after it was accused of misleading users over its privacy settings.

PayPal did not return a request for comment on this latest report.

So what did we learn this week?

The bounces, skips and steps back will keep on coming — even when the ecosystem is busy, even on summer vacation.

Luckily we’re here to keep track of all of it as it happens.

See you next week!



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