Most are familiar with the concept of burner cell phones—prepaid phones used, then thrown away. A new privacy startup wants to bring the same concept to your online purchases.
Credit card numbers that you use, then lose, could solve a major fraud problem and allay consumer concerns when they shop online, says a startup called Privacy.com, which launched in public beta today. Instead of putting in your credit card number when you buy something online, you use a ‘proxy’ number issued by Privacy.com. The numbers are generated once you sign up with Privacy via your online bank account. Privacy can generate as many as 15 card numbers a day per user, capped at 30 a month.
When you go to make a purchase, you log onto Privacy.com to generate a proxy credit number. If you’re a Chrome user, you can download a Chrome extension and generate a proxy number right on the checkout page. One big wrinkle: You have to trust Privacy.com to protect your banking information. The company explains its security protocols on its security page.
The service works via a partnership Privacy.com has with an issuing bank that gives it access to Visa’s payment network, CEO Bo Jiang told Quartz. The banking relationship gives Privacy.com access to up to a billion proxy cards. The service has been in a private beta for three months, and expects 1,000 users to sign up to the waitlist. The service is free for customers; Jiang says Privacy.com will make money by taking a cut of the fee merchants pay to Visa and the issuing bank partner for processing the payment.
The service is meant to keep your credit card information out of the hands of retailers. Data breaches at Ashley Madison, eBay, Home Depot, and others have affected millions of Americans. Internet Retailer says that over half of data breaches target e-commerce websites. Javelin Research, a financial services consultancy firm, estimated that online fraud cost $10 billion in 2014, and estimated that the figure could ballon to $19 billion in 2018.
The tough part, says Experian’s Cherian Abraham, will be convincing consumers to actually use Privacy.com’s service. “The question is how large that market will be, and whether a startup can develop it, promote its brand, acquire customers – all while keeping its costs low…The upside to their product is clear, the question is whether they can stay alive long enough for the customers who have a need, to find them.”