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September 14, 2009 6:56 PM   Subscribe

Discussed several times in the green, Mint.com announced today that the company will be acquired by Intuit.
posted by ericales (44 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, that sucks. Mint wouldn't exist if Intuit's software didn't suck so bad.
posted by octothorpe at 6:59 PM on September 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


That's exactly what I thought when I first heard about this.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:08 PM on September 14, 2009


octothorpe: "Mint wouldn't exist if Intuit's software didn't suck so bad."

Seriously, Dick Cheney got better reviews.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:10 PM on September 14, 2009


Great. Now they can screw up Mint on the Mac as badly as they screwed up Quickbooks.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:11 PM on September 14, 2009


This kind of app has to be a dream for Intuit. It gives them the one thing they didn't quite pull off with Quicken (until Quicken Online anyway): access to a huge mound of financial data to do with as they please. Sure they aren't interested in selling your online banking password, but you can bet people would pay big bucks for aggregate and especially personalized data on the spending habits of hundreds of thousands of users (they have 1m+ registered users, figure some fraction stick around and continue to use the site).

The real scary thing would be if the credit bureaus started using this stuff to do even more in-depth risk modeling. Right now, credit card companies look at where you shop to assess risk. If you're, say, running up charges at the thrift-store or the bail bondsman, that's a red flag and they may raise your rates or cancel your account. The same theme applies in other way less obvious ways too. Right now, I believe this data is covered under financial privacy laws, meaning that each bank only gets the data about the charges made through that bank, but once you've given your purchasing data to Mint.com/Intuit, they have much more freedom to sell it to the highest bidder. Now you could be denied credit from all banks on the basis of your purchasing pattern at one bank. Lovely stuff.
posted by zachlipton at 7:13 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Perhaps this comment would be of assistance?
posted by Cathedral at 7:15 PM on September 14, 2009


Right now, I believe this data is covered under financial privacy laws, meaning that each bank only gets the data about the charges made through that bank, but once you've given your purchasing data to Mint.com/Intuit, they have much more freedom to sell it to the highest bidder.

Mint profiles are anonymous, they can't sync your name to any of the information they collect. This won't happen.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 7:18 PM on September 14, 2009


Boy, I sure as hell wouldn't want Quicken to have access to my private financial data.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:24 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Mind, I'm also uneasy about VISA having access to it. I may be a nutter.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:27 PM on September 14, 2009


Uhg. I've fallen in love with Mint and its amazing hands off approach to managing my money. This saddens me.
posted by SirStan at 7:49 PM on September 14, 2009


Now I'm glad I never got around to signing up for Mint. My hatred of Intuit is deep and furious.
posted by chairface at 7:53 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Devil Tesla: Anonymous is a relative concept. As the paper I happen to have open right now says: "It is often possible to pull individual profiles out of even carefully anonymized data" (Lazer et al. Computational Social Science. Science (2009) vol. 323 (5915) pp. 721). If I have your online banking login details (and Mint.com does for lots of its users), I can probably get your name and checking account number right from the web interface. If not, Mint has email addresses and cell phone numbers (to send email and text message alerts) for many users. Hell, the email address of many users probably contains their name in some form. They already have your zip code because it's a sign-up question. It turns out you can uniquely identify 87% of the US population with just zip code, gender, and date of birth. Toss in the complete set of somebody's purchasing data and you could do pretty darn well at linking this stuff up with other data.

Their privacy policy appears to prevent a good deal of misuse of this data, but that policy can be changed at any time. The profiles are most definitely not anonymous, so we're simply relying on them to decide not to sell the data. It most certainly "can happen."
posted by zachlipton at 7:59 PM on September 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


All right, so that'll be the end of that, then.

What's the best Mint replacement?
posted by rokusan at 8:00 PM on September 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


Great link, zachlipton.

Card issuers know where and when you spend, but not exactly what you buy. Retailers know exactly what you buy, but not what you do once you walk out the door. If you're Canadian Tire, you get both sets of data. Detailed in-store purchases AND widespread other usage. What does this tell you? Lots. Card issuers already mine store-level purchasing data (e.g. shifting from Whole Foods to ShopRite), but in-store data would be an earlier indicator of potential financial distress (e.g. giving up fair trade organic coffee for the store brand).

That said, few retailers have that kind of external data (can't find stats, but how many people use their Macy's card at Home Depot?) and Mint doesn't (automatically) divide transactions down to the item level. What does concern me is card issuers (and others) gaining access to information like income (via bank deposits) and investment portfolio. Even though, as The Devil Tesla mentioned, Mint doesn't know exactly who you are (i.e. you SSN), it doesn't take much to uniquely identify someone.
posted by djb at 8:04 PM on September 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the nytimes link djb. That's the article I was searching for :-)

If, say, Safeway wants store-level purchasing data, they can provide the last four digits of your CC number (most online banks put this online to let you identify your accounts), your zip code (which Safeway has from your club card or just from asking you at POS), transaction amount, transaction date, and bank name to Mint, and if the individual has a Mint account, there are extremely good odds that they can identify the user based on this information or far less. They could even trade data: Mint gets your in-store receipt while Safeway gets your store-level data. Safeway could see that you've been shopping a lot at, say, a nearby sandwich shop, and start bombarding you with promos for their deli. (Safeway deli=blech!)

The income and investment portfolio data is quite scary too. Imagine what a card issuer could do with the knowledge that your direct deposit didn't come in this month (indicating you may have lost your job) or that you're pulling an early withdrawal from your IRA. Or for that matter, a marketer would be quite happy to learn that your monthly direct deposit has increased in amount, potentially indicating a promotion or raise, so they can swoop in to offer you luxury goods and a better lifestyle while the post-promotion euphoria is still strong.
posted by zachlipton at 8:22 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's the best Mint replacement?

Yodlee MoneyCenter is a less hyped and less Web 2.0 version of Mint. It's also been around for longer, and it's by the real company that powers Mint on the backend. I've used it for the last couple of years and have been pretty happy with it (never tried Mint though).
posted by burnmp3s at 8:36 PM on September 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


How many people use their Macy's card at Home Depot?

These days, few stores finance their own shoppers' credit. Many (most?) store cards today are actually rebranded and restricted-use Visas or Mastercards in disguise. It might say Home Depot on it, but it's really run by Mastercard. Home Depot pays for the branding.

(What, you never noticed that your bills from five different stores all come from the same PO Box in New Jersey?)
posted by rokusan at 8:37 PM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


.
posted by aerotive at 9:24 PM on September 14, 2009


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posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:25 PM on September 14, 2009


They could even trade data: Mint gets your in-store receipt while Safeway gets your store-level data.

Isn't this a little paranoid? Surely this would be a violation of data protection laws?
posted by atrazine at 10:15 PM on September 14, 2009


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posted by mmoncur at 10:18 PM on September 14, 2009


What's the best Mint replacement?

Wesabe
posted by clearly at 11:32 PM on September 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised nobody's mentioned Wesabe. They're almost the same thing as Mint - I actually had a hell of a time trying to tell the two apart, and I never saw a really good comparative review of the two on the internet. I'm not sure if they still do this, but they used to put the direct phone number of the CEO on the website so you could call him with questions. It was a nice show of direct-human niceness. A decent alternative to Mint, IMO.

N.B. I am not a shill for Wesabe. I actually dropped online finance-stuff entirely when I realized that my needs were non-standard, and I ended up rolling my own elaborate Excel spreadsheet that mostly mimics what Wesabe and its ilk offer.
posted by awenner at 11:39 PM on September 14, 2009


Incidentally, you can delete your account via a link at the bottom of your profile.
posted by armage at 11:55 PM on September 14, 2009


Armage, does that actually work now?
posted by Kikkoman at 11:59 PM on September 14, 2009


.
posted by obloquy at 12:56 AM on September 15, 2009


insightful comment on daringfireball.net:

Intuit — the company so inept at shipping Mac software that they were apparently caught unaware that the Java bridge had been deprecated years ago and removed from Snow Leopard, rendering QuickBooks unable to be activated — has acquired the personal finance management web site Mint.com.

If you’re a Mint.com user, you can delete your account at the bottom of the Profile → About You page. (Thanks to Blake Seely.) Good luck, you may need it.

posted by krautland at 1:49 AM on September 15, 2009


Now you could be denied credit from all banks on the basis of your purchasing pattern at one bank. Lovely stuff.

I assume you don't think it's lovely?

Not sure I see what's wrong with this. They identify risks, get less defaults, are more profitable, and people that aren't buying lottery tickets and “Mega Thruster Exhaust Systems” can get better rates.

Also, even if this were a big deal, using Mint personally wouldn't actually affect an individual using it, because Mint can't actually affect your own credit going-ons. It couldn't affect you at all banks, because the individual lending body only has access to their own data about you. The only thing they could glean from Mint is better data about what sort of things are red flags, when they're looking over their own customer's purchases in aggregate.
posted by floam at 1:59 AM on September 15, 2009


(and if this is just a moral "well, I don't think what you're spending money on with credit cards should affect your creditworthiness" deal, I say fooey. I think the world would be a happier (albeit less wealthy, of course) place if credit was less accessible and folks had to explain to a loan officer exactly what it was they wanted to spend borrowed money on like the olden days.)
posted by floam at 2:05 AM on September 15, 2009


floam: Do lots of people abuse credit? Absolutely. But the solution to that problem is not an Orwellian world in which credit card companies watch over your spending and use your purchasing details to decide your credit worthiness. I don't want my bank looking over my shoulder and judging my every purchase according to a giant secret algorithm. How would people react if the loan officer in your "happier world" ran around saying things like, "Well sir. I have this list here of everywhere you've shopped around town and I'm not going to give you this loan because you bought some junk and have been hitting the thrift store a bunch?" Your past payment history, debt-to-income ratio, employment history, and such are all reasonable things to use in determining creditworthiness. A magical secret formula based on the stores you frequent is a dumb one.

Think about it this way: issuing credit uses a risk-based model similar to insurance. Your auto insurance looks at your driving record, where you live, what type of car you drive, number of miles you drive, and similar factors in order to set eligibility and rates. They don't use a digital tattle-tale to see exactly how fast you drive or how hard you accelerate, nor do they consider exactly which roads you drive on or what radio stations I listen to while I'm driving. While I'm bet my car insurance company could be more profitable if they did all these things (and they could do this now with fairly simple technology), they instead measure risk on a more aggregate basis, because, frankly, people get pissed off if you tell them their insurance rates are going up because they drove too much last year on Market Street instead of Pine or because they listened to heavy metal too often while driving.

It's the same thing here. At some point, you just creep people out and make them angry because you're basing your decisions on criteria that, while statistically sound, seem to be overly specific and personal. The world might be easier in some ways if everybody had everybody else's personal information (in order words, Brin's asinine Transparent Society), but when your car insurance rates go up because, say, you've been using your credit card at KFC "too much" or something else the company decides is high risk, you might just rather keep some information to yourself.
posted by zachlipton at 3:00 AM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


They don't use a digital tattle-tale to see exactly how fast you drive or how hard you accelerate, nor ...

Heh. My auto insurance company has a program where you keep a GPS thing in your car for a discount. They can raise your rates if you're an aggressive driver, and they like having proof of where people were and how they were driving when they were in an accident in case of claims.
posted by floam at 3:09 AM on September 15, 2009


And no, I don't have one. I certainly wouldn't appreciate the intrusion. Plus I'm probably an aggressive driver sometimes and I'd be afraid of my rates going up.
posted by floam at 3:12 AM on September 15, 2009


10pm September 13th: Sign up for mint.com account

10am September 14th: Learn how to integrate it with my bank and credit card; infinite joy results

10pm September 14th: Delete mint.com account
posted by spamguy at 7:04 AM on September 15, 2009


Mint's revenue model was to suggest credit cards to their users, and get a kick-back from the credit card companies. This obviously wasn't as profitable as they hoped.

Surely there were other options to monetize the site versus selling to Intuit. The most obvious is to charge for an account. Google adsense based on your purchasing habits could have also worked.

It's just a matter of time before Intuit turns the site into crap.
posted by cseibert at 7:31 AM on September 15, 2009


If it wasn't for mint.com being bought, I wouldn't have learned about Yodlee.
posted by Jairus at 8:08 AM on September 15, 2009


The world might be easier in some ways if everybody had everybody else's personal information (in order words, Brin's asinine Transparent Society)

To be fair, I believe Brin's point was that if the rich and powerful were going to have access to surveillance technology (and they will, if it exists), then it's only fair that everyone else has access to it too. Otherwise it's an imbalance of power.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:06 AM on September 15, 2009


I really like Mint's layout and design, and their iphone app (although have not been impressed with their shitty customer service when stuff wasn't working for me). I don't have any particular animosity or strong opinions about Intuit. Is there a good reason for me to stop using Mint now? If so, what is it?
posted by booknerd at 9:44 AM on September 15, 2009


booknerd: No reason to stop using it now. I'm positive that all of the chicken little's in this thread are still going to keep their accounts open.

The problem is, like every online site like this, is that you don't own your data anymore. Quicken in the past was nice, because you didn't have to be online in order to manage your finances and plan. Now you do and with that you have the same risk that you do with any online venture. Look at what happened recently with Microsoft's online music store, people bought into it and when MS closed the store, the music suddenly didn't work anymore. Understand that if you like the product, it may eventually close or get bought out and you can't transfer your data anymore.
posted by kookywon at 10:04 AM on September 15, 2009


The only positive thing I've thought of so far is better integration and importing with TurboTax.

Also, yay! My first post does not appear to suck.
posted by ericales at 11:59 AM on September 15, 2009


I have low expectations, but I'll keep my Mint account till Intuit does something that obviously screws it up. Perhaps they'll keep the Mint people and let them do their thing and not try to "improve" it themselves. You never know. Sometimes frogs and fish fall from the sky, too.
posted by rusty at 1:16 PM on September 15, 2009


RikiTikiTavi: At the risk of getting too far off topic here, my main criticism of Brin (besides the fact that Startide Rising is a phenomenally horrible book for a number of reasons, especially the fact that it includes the phrase "warm bubbling wetness," a phrase so horrid that it has remained lodged in my memory for nearly a decade) is that the inherent asymmetry in information processing capabilities between us mere mortals and large powerful entities makes true transparency a myth. Schneier writes fairly extensively on this over at The Myth of the 'Transparent Society' to cite one such view (Brin also has a rebuttal to Schneier wherein he argues the wisdom of crowds will solve all that ails us).

Basically, my spending habits are a lot more valuable to a bank than they are to you, and it's in my bank's interest to apply as many proprietary processes as possible to process and digest all this information. If everyone has all the data, there are doubtless a number of useful applications for everybody, but the people with the most leverage to use that data for or against us are always going to be large private or governmental organizations with a strong motive to do so.

In other words, the "imbalance of power" is still there when everyone has access to the technology, and it's potentially stronger than ever. If my bank knows I switched from organic fair-trade coffee to store brand, they can use that to raise my rates sky-high or even cancel my card. If I know the complete financial dealings of my bank and have a room full of CPAs, I can, um, see if the bank is solvent, which the FDIC is supposed to be doing for me anyway.

Total transparency generally makes the powerful exponentially more powerful than it makes the little guy. Or as Schneier puts it: "You can think of your existing power as the exponent in an equation that determines the value, to you, of more information. The more power you have, the more additional power you derive from the new data."

We can run around making everything transparent, or we can keep stuffing our fingers in the dike and try to keep some of this data from being collected in the first place. We don't exactly win either way, but total transparency is way too much like admitting defeat to me.
posted by zachlipton at 1:58 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Armage, does that actually work now?

Kikkoman, when I tried it I actually got a confirmation message (Safari, OS X 10.6.1), so I assume it works.

But you know what they say when you assume...
posted by armage at 5:18 PM on September 15, 2009


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posted by haltingproblemsolved at 6:44 PM on September 15, 2009


hearts mint.
posted by edmo at 1:33 AM on September 16, 2009


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