How Far is Too Far? (Part 2 of 2)

big data
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In Part 1 of this article, I wrote about cell phone apps that silently follow us and push out relevant ads based on our current location.

Frankly, it’s a little creepy.

Knowing our location at any given time is only one piece of information in “the new normal” of what marketers can find out about us.

We know that in our travels around the Internet we leave digital fingerprints (some may call them “cookie crumbs”) all over the place. If you’ve thought about that at all, you may have taken some comfort in the fact that, by themselves, the information is pretty innocuous. Besides, they don’t know our names. Or do they?

Suppose a company started collecting information about you using your email address. Since most websites now use our email as our login ID, that makes it possible to aggregate an enormous amount of information about our interests and activities.

RapLeaf’s Accuracy

One company participating in this massive data collection is called RapLeaf. It acknowledges having over one billion email addresses in its database. RapLeaf and several rival companies know a tremendous amount about what we do online, such as our shopping habits.

But what about knowing our vices — maybe our visits to gambling sites or adult entertainment, or our research into medical illnesses, or personal information from online forums? That seems a bit too far.

However, what makes RapLeaf unique, apparently, is that they have found how to match our online behavior with offline information about us, including our voter registration, real estate files, and legal history databases. (Remember that speeding ticket – or DWI conviction – a few years ago? They probably do too!)

RapLeaf is able to do that because they know not only our email addresses but also our names. Just like the email address is the key to our online information, the name is their key to an enormous amount of additional data. RapLeaf is even into social networking. Though, in this case, our “friend” is using Facebook to fill in a bit more data items in their online dossier about us.

So, as the Wall Street Journal reported, RapLeaf can deduce our income, age, political leanings, gender, age of our children, and even religion.

It does so with remarkable accuracy and alarming specificity. The WSJ found that RapLeaf correctly identified one person’s “income range, number of cars (one), his interests in gardening and the Beatles, and his interest in playing the online game Mafia Wars, among other topics” and another’s “income range and age range and the fact that she is interested in the Bible and in cooking, crafts, rural farming, and wildlife.”

So where is all this taking us? Think about the advice from Scott McNealy, former CEO of Sun Microsystems. I am slightly paraphrasing, but McNealy warned more than 10 years ago:

“Privacy? Forget about it. You don’t have any privacy anymore.”

That was a decade ago and look what has happened since then. Does this trend worry you? Does it seem right to you? Please share your comments below.

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Kent Lawson

Kent Lawson is the CEO & Chairman of Private Communications Corporation and creator of its flagship software PRIVATE WiFi. He combined his extensive business and technical experience to develop PRIVATE WiFi in 2010. The software is an easy-to-use Virtual Private Network (VPN) that protects your sensitive personal information whenever you’re connected to a public WiFi network. Follow Kent on Twitter: @KentLawson.