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Your private life is the new online currency

Your private life is the new online currency

Websites are getting sneakier, spying on you with increasingly sophisticated techniques to collect data. Now they know everything from your favorite movie to your secret fears about gaining weight.


August 3, 2010 3:51 by

It drove me mad when my 60-something mother resolutely refused to set up online profiles to streamline her banking, shopping, and other mundane chores. No amount of coaxing helped. And she wasn’t swayed by that little padlock icon of safety, either. No Amazon book purchases for our family, she insisted. Nor Netflix, nor automated bill pay, nor online grocery orders — the list of conveniences we wouldn’t be availing ourselves of, seemed to grow longer each day.

“I just have this fear of entering my personal details online,”she said. “I feel like spies are lurking in there,” she joked.

Well it turns out there are spies lurking “in there,” but they’re not waiting for you to divulge your closest held financial secrets. In actual fact, the location of your computer, your shopping interests, bodily ailments, and assorted other mundane details are of much more interest – they’re worth a whole lot of money to lots of interested parties.

Your online browsing habits are the new internet currency, and they’re being bought and sold like shares of stock – complete with pseudo stock exchanges that deal in the exchange of website users’ data. The online world is characterized by increasingly sophisticated attempts to collect users’ data. And many of the most popular websites are installing “new and intrusive consumer tracking technologies on the computers of people visiting their sites,” according to a Wall Street Journal investigative report published Sunday.

Your preferences, secrets, interests, and online habits constitute a valuable personal profile that is in increasing demand, as companies like Google, Microsoft, and Quantcast are mining your data to deliver targeted ads to its website users. Users’ favorite movies, websites, TV shows, browsing habits, and other seemingly trivial details are the bread and butter of a lucrative new industry that makes its money by using your online habits to predict what you might buy. The industry is relatively new, loosely regulated, and growing fast, analysts say, as advertisers attempt to put their ad dollars where they’ll do the most good, by targeting the customers whose online behavior makes them good bets as customers. Data profiles allow advertisers to buy “access to people, not Web pages,” in the words of one observer.

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