Data Mining Your Online Life

This article is just one more example of how much your personal information is being harvested and sold to companies for advertising purposes. Companies like Google and Facebook have so much information on you that they can also infer other things about you that you may have never revealed online or on Facebook specifically. If you think there isn’t a new form of targeted advertising emerging right now, you are wrong. I just heard a story on a podcast about a person that did a search online for information about refinancing his car loan, and a day or two later, he received a call from somebody about refinancing. Sure, that could be coincidence, but that is a perfect example of why Google or Facebook offer free services. They gather your information, make inferences, and can sell that information to a company to target very specific needs. You see an ad, receive a call, or get something in the mail that is exactly applicable to you.

Some people I know are not worried about this. They have “nothing to hide” or “they like to see relevant ads as opposed to irrelevant ones”. I have nothing to hide either, but this is much more insidious than that. It is not Google or Facebook that has your information. It is anybody that will pay for it. Take it one step further in a world that has been dominated by headline of credit card compromises and hacking: your information is available for any low life that can hack their way into it. And if you think Google or Facebook will keep it safe and secure forever, think again. They will be hacked.

This is not conspiracy theory nonsense. This is the nature of putting your life online. Stop and think about what pieces of information you have divulged online. If somebody could put those pieces together, what would they know about you? They might know who your family and friends are, what kind of food you like, what your favorite restaurants are, how old you are, who you are married to, where you went on vacation, where you would like to go on vacation, what your hobbies are, what your daily route, when you are usually home, when you are usually not home, what you look at online, what your favorite music is, who your favorite actors, movies, books, TV shows are, where you stand on the political spectrum, who you call on the phone (if you use something like Google voice), what you are doing tomorrow, next week, next month (if you use an online calendar), etc. Now, how can that be used to target you for particular products or services. What can I sell you if I knew you are getting a divorce? Or your house was just broken into or you’re dealing with an drug addiction in the family or you just got a new job…… Do you really want that kind of personal intrusion?

Nobody seems to care right now. But I guarantee that public perception will change overnight sometime in the next few years when one of these companies is hacked. Or possibly it will change gradually when advertisers keep pushing the limits of what is acceptable using personal information, but it will be too late be then. So, what is the solution? I think we need to start will additional online privacy protections. We already have protections for our phone numbers (FTC: Do Not Call list), our health care information (HIPAA protections), our banking information (GLBA Act), and I’m sure others. Why is there no legislation specifically stating what a online company can and can’t do with your information? Because, I guarantee you, Facebook has a lot more information on you than your Bank or your doctor. Think about it.

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