Collection, Cookies, and Hell’s Angels

We all know by now that data brokers constantly collect a vast array of information from all of us, the collective web community. Only recently has the breadth and scope of the $156 billion per year data industry come to light. $156 billion?! That’s a LOT of money! From wireless devices to computers, fitness bracelets to smart homes, data is generated every moment, as we’ve covered in a previous blog post (Blog: The data we create). What you may not know is how this information is gathered. So, let’s talk collection: how do they do it?

There are a few methods to gain insights about us and our online and offline pursuits,
blog_cookiesincluding cookies, quizzes and surveys, and privacy policies that sometimes allow for
‘creative’ use of our wired and wireless devices and the information they store. Cookies (mmm, yum! Sounds innocuous, right?) are widely used to store information about individual computers and users across platforms. Virtually every site you visit stores some kind of information about you; web sites collect a large array of information about their users. Your personal peccadilloes may be collected using cookies, quizzes and surveys, or surrendered by a disclaimer or privacy policy attached to a site. It’s all happening behind the scenes – sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes not so much.

What’s first on the list? Don’t sweat these, they’re just the basics, demographics: name, age, address, occupation, income-level, and location. Like the phone books of old, this information is just basic, general identifying info.

Now onto the trickier stuff: data brokers begin to categorize and sell, sometimes anonymously, information broken down into interesting-sounding categories that represent part lifestyle, part fuzzy-logic combo of info that you have shared during your day on phones, computers, iPads, FitBits, etc. These categories are essentially formulated through a combination of information you’ve shared, market research, and guesstimate as to your future behavior.

Some examples? Your religious affiliation, political affiliation, expectant or new parent status, technology user/level of tech interest, home loan type, marital status, net worth, high-end shopper, and cholesterol focus all fit into one or more of these roles. Are you a financial newsletter subscriber, an affluent baby boomer, a Twitter user with 250+ friends, a biker/Hell’s Angel?  Are you a kitten fanatic with twelve furry friends that never leave your side? There is a category for every hobby and lifestyle!

What do these characterizations mean? This is how we are bucketed online and targeted for ads and other analytics, both online and offline. Simply put, your labels define the virtual you and in turn the value of your data to companies.

For a moment, tune-in to ads on the pages and consider your time spent browsing the web. What does your digital footprint say about you? Is it accurate? More importantly, recognize that no matter the label, it’s the data broker (and not you) that is making the big bucks by archiving your digital lifestyle.

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