Online Privacy: Time for Action

You visit a favorite Web site. You browse a while, and then you notice that all the ads you see are remarkably well-tailored for your unique preferences. The banner ads or AdSense offerings are for things that you like, or for businesses that are local to you. Product suggestions are for things you’ve recently browsed or purchased from a mail-order company.

How on earth does “teh Internets” know these things?

Simple.  You are a number in an enormous database, and the data associated with that number is growing at a frightening rate.

Savvy Web users already know that cookies can track your browsing history, but the old standby of blocking or deleting cookies is no longer enough.  Marketers are increasingly integrating offline data, or data from other online sources like social-networking sites, to develop a comprehensive profile about you. This profile worth its weight in gold — it can be sold and shared as an asset.  Worse, this aggregation is happening behind the scenes, with users unaware of the wide variety of information being integrated into their marketing profiles.

Ryan Singel, writing in Wired on April 9, reports that some privacy-protection groups have had enough: