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Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    Update: Web Users Delete Profiles From RapLeaf

    In a follow-up to its stories about how online tracking company RapLeaf is able to identify people browsing online by their real names and also how politicians, among others, are using this identification data for online targeted behavioral advertising, the Wall Street Journal reports that members of the public are deleting their profiles from RapLeaf.

    Thousands of people opted to delete their profiles from Internet tracking firm RapLeaf Inc. on Monday, briefly causing some delays in the company’s systems.

    The rush followed a Wall Street Journal article on RapLeaf that investigated the San Francisco firm’s role in gathering and selling personal details about individuals to marketers and political campaigns. [...]

    The company allows consumers to permanently opt out of its tracking at RapLeaf.com. A “few thousand” people opted out of RapLeaf’s services on Monday, causing some delays in sending confirmation emails, said Joel Jewitt, RapLeaf’s vice president of business development. Mr. Jewitt said the systems are “working now and we’re making sure everyone is notified.” [...]

    People who want to delete their information from RapLeaf’s database entirely must submit an email address to the company. Within 48 hours, RapLeaf says it will remove users’ information from the data it sends to online ad companies. Within several weeks, RapLeaf says the information will be purged from RapLeaf’s database.

    Users also can opt out of RapLeaf’s personalized advertising business on the company’s website. This will install a cookie—a small text file associated with the Web browser—that tells RapLeaf’s system not to personalize ads based on data it has in its files about a user. If users delete cookies or switch browsers, they will need to install the “opt-out” cookie again.

    It is unfortunate that the burden is on individuals to constantly re-install the opt-out cookie. I urge all companies to follow Google’s lead and create a permanent opt-out plugin, which allows a person to opt-out once instead of constantly opting out every time he or she clears cookies.

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    2 Responses to “Update: Web Users Delete Profiles From RapLeaf”

    1. Logical Extremes Says:

      Unfortunately, I don’t think an “opt-out” plug-in does much more than opt-out cookies, other than be persistent on that single browser. It doesn’t stop ads, and it doesn’t keep your information from being collected.

      “Opt out” of most, if not all, ad systems only means that ads won’t be targeted to your persistent (via some variety of cookies) aggregated behavior and will instead likely be contextual, but could also still be targeted to non-ad-target-cookie information about your system characteristics, your logged-in identity, and/or your online behavior.

      “Opt out” doesn’t address the collection, storage, aggregation, and repurposing of your system characteristics and any online behaviors that can be tracked without a cookie. Most online services have a very narrow definition of “PII”, disregarding how aggregated or de-anonymized information can later easily become PII (or probabilistically close enough). There is increasing sophistication in non-cookie profiling and in de-anonymization. As privacy advocates, I don’t think we should put all of our eggs in the “opt out” basket.

    2. Privacy Lives Says:

      Thanks for bringing up some important issues about how and what data is gathered. I agree that we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in the “opt out” basket. I believe that we should encourage a variety of solutions; Google’s permanent opt-out plugin is just one option.

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