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Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    New York Times: Following the Breadcrumbs on the Data-Sharing Trail

    We’re discussed before how there is an industry of gathering data on individuals and how personal data that is posted online can be used to created detailed profiles of individuals for things such as targeted behavioral advertising. Now, the New York Times has a reporter trying to track the trail of data collection and sharing by companies on individuals’ behavior:

    I wondered how all those campaigns, companies and institutions got my number. And how much money data brokers behind the scenes might make by flipping my name and address.

    Turns out there’s no easy way for consumers in the United States to track the data dealers who profile our spending, Web browsing and social media habits, the better to sell us stuff. Although the Federal Trade Commission issued a consumer privacy report last month urging companies that collect and share customer information to give people more notification and control over the proliferation of their personal details, the recommendations don’t have the force of binding regulations.

    So, without a right to compel vendors to show me where my data goes, I decided to do some profiling of my own.

    I subscribed to a half-dozen print magazines last year, signing up for each with a different typo in my name or variation in my address. Then I collected the direct mail that resulted, tracking the solicitations back to the publishers who had shared my erroneous contact information.

    Admittedly, it was unscientific. But I figured this little off-line experiment might provide insight into an even more opaque world — online behavioral targeting — where ad networks deliver tailored marketing pitches to people based on their location, search queries, online purchases and the like.

    Read the full story to learn the results of her experiment.

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