Privacy or Anonymity

Wednesday, August 4, AD 2010

The Wall Street Journal has been running a series on the business of online “spying” for marketing information about web browsers. From today’s installment:

You may not know a company called [x+1] Inc., but it may well know a lot about you.

From a single click on a web site, [x+1] correctly identified Carrie Isaac as a young Colorado Springs parent who lives on about $50,000 a year, shops at Wal-Mart and rents kids’ videos. The company deduced that Paul Boulifard, a Nashville architect, is childless, likes to travel and buys used cars. And [x+1] determined that Thomas Burney, a Colorado building contractor, is a skier with a college degree and looks like he has good credit.

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2 Responses to Privacy or Anonymity

  • I don’t get to worked up about this as a privacy issue, but I do think it’s instructive to note the nature of “browsing the web” as opposed to brick and mortar window-shopping. The fact is that you could almost consider it public information that Mr. Brown goes to the mall every Saturday and buys a paper, drinks a Starbuck’s coffee while he reads it and then goes into Borders, GAP and Radio Shack, etc. All you need is someone in a kiosk to observe it and then try to sell him a product based on his habits. This is all legal, yet it would require a too much effort to record this kind of thing and then sell the info to big companies.

    But information may be collected on the web much more easily. It’s as if each user would send a letter to every major company saying “Here’s what I did for the last year since I’ve been at this IP address. Use this information however you may wish.” Buyer beware has taken on a new meaning. “They” know who you are.

  • People will have to make their own choices as to what they are willing to reveal by their non-private habits. But I am not entirely confident that the technology will remain essentially benign as opposed to a politburo “Big Brother” approach. In this world the liberals are intent on not only getting their way in what the law allows, but in making sure that everyone MUST THINK LIKE THEM. It will, eventually, occur to educators and others paid by government that they can determine who doesn’t THINK LIKE THEM by using these resources. At that point, there will be people who argue that they would be failing to fulfill their obligations if they DON’T use (x+1) to greatest effect.