Square Accidentally Sends Digital Receipts To Wrong Persons, Sometimes With Disastrous Consequences
Jack Dorsey has got some explaining to do – and for once, it’s not related to Twitter’s crackdown on free speech, shadow-banning, or the social media company’s plans to affix disclaimers to ‘offensive’ tweets from President Trump.
In a shocking report, WSJ exposed a glitch in Square’s payments software whereby the company’s software accidentally forwarded receipts documenting “transactions as mundane as a cup of coffee and as sensitive as an obstetrician’s visit to people who were uninvolved in the purchases.” Some of the receipts were forwarded to seemingly random individuals, with neither the recipient or the person making the purchase able to explain why Square sent the receipts to the people it did.
To illustrate the real-world impact of these embarrassing glitches, WSJ shared the stories of several people who were adversely impacted by these unauthorized disclosures of private purchases. One woman had hoped to keep her impending divorce a secret, until Square inadvertently broke the news to her friends.
Teresa Smith hoped she could keep news of her impending divorce a secret, until Square blabbed about it to one of her friends.
The day after Ms. Smith, a horse trainer living outside Washington, paid the retainer for a local divorce attorney in late 2016, an acquaintance forwarded her an email full of details about the transaction. The attorney had swiped Ms. Smith’s credit card through a Square device, and the payments company automatically generated the receipt that wound up her friend’s inbox.
“I might as well have put it out on Facebook or took out a front-page ad in the New York Times,” Ms. Smith said.
When Smith complained to the company, she got the brush off, with Square contending that her friend’s email address was “the one it had on file” for Smith.
Ms. Smith said that when she complained to Square about her experience, she was told that her friend’s email address was previously used to get a copy of a receipt from an earlier purchase made with Ms. Smith’s at a different Square vendor, a chain of events that Square confirmed to the Journal. Square’s policy is to send digital receipts to the phone number or email address on file automatically unless that person opts out.
“Square said, ‘We didn’t do anything wrong'” Ms. Smith said. “The hell you didn’t.”
The owner of a small kitchenware store in Montana said she asked Square to disable the automated digital receipts after the 2017 holiday season, when she heard that customers’ spouses had been inadvertently notified about their Christmas gifts. The store owner said the mishaps soured her relationship with some regular customers.
At Home on the Range, a kitchenware store in Livingston, Mont., asked Square to disable the automated digital receipts following the 2017 holiday season. Owner Jennifer Flight said she heard complaints from a number of customers whose spouses had received itemized receipts for their own Christmas gifts.
Ms. Flight said that the issue of receipts going to someone other than the purchaser generated “the most negative of all of the responses we’ve had from customers.” She said customers didn’t believe her when she explained that the receipts were likely the result of information they provided to another Square business.
“It was clear that in his mind I had dropped from the ranks of friend to salesperson, scheming to get his information to market to him,” Ms. Flight said about one particularly peeved customer.
Oftentimes, complaints about misdirected receipts involve credit cards shared by spouses, but not always. Stories about surprise gifts being spoiled aren’t uncommon.
But the potential for these flaws to have even more embarrassing or disastrous consequences. Square is building ‘customer-engagement and marketing’ services for small businesses to help them leverage the vast drove of purchasing data that the payments company collects – which will create even more potential for these ‘mistakes’ to alienate customers.