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Your Data Footprint Is Affecting Your Life In Ways You Can't Even Imagine (fastcoexist.com) 191

An anonymous reader cites the following excerpts from a FastCoExist article: Innocently clicking on a link results in ad targeting that's hard to shake and our purchases quickly reveal more information than we intend, such as the infamous example of Target knowing a woman is pregnant before she's told her family -- and before she's purchased any baby products. [...] Predictions about you are deeply shaping your life in ways of which you are probably blissfully unaware. Predictions about you (and millions of other strangers) are starting to deeply shape your life. Your career, your love life, major decisions about your health and well-being, and even if you end up in jail, are now being governed in no small part by the digital bread crumbs you've left behind -- many of which you don't even know you've dropped in the first place.
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Your Data Footprint Is Affecting Your Life In Ways You Can't Even Imagine

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  • Possible solution (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Only buy routine items online. For anything that requires a bit of discretion, buy it at a physical store with cash.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      a physical store with cash

      What are you trying to hide, citizen? You have been flagged for closer surveillance.

      (Already not having a "social media profile" is seen as a bit deviant and can easily hurt your career prospects, and use of encrypted communications is considered suspicious [alternet.org]. It's not going to be long at this rate).

      • and use of encrypted communications is considered suspicious [alternet.org].

        Man...that must be hell for all those people using online banking, email, or any other SSL/TLS encrypted communications stream.

        • by creimer ( 824291 )

          Already not having a "social media profile" is seen as a bit deviant and can easily hurt your career prospects [...]

          I have yet to see that happen in the IT field. The electronic trail under my legal name ended in the 1990's. The only thing I have in terms of social media is a LinkedIn profile.

          • When I was younger, I was taught that you don't use your real name online, it is basic security. Not sure why that would be a negative in any job, but I can't say I was ever asked for my Facebook or whatever social media account in any job interview.

            I did have a C level at a small company I worked for friend me on Facebook, but that was because we were friendly towards each other, not to get all the juice about me. I don't actually use Facebook, I just have an account because it is expected in many circle

    • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2016 @04:56PM (#51710813)

      Only buy routine items online. For anything that requires a bit of discretion, buy it at a physical store with cash.

      I wouldn't be surprised if the FBI and NSA start requiring retailers to log cash purchases on their systems.

      • by Ken McE ( 599217 )
        I wouldn't be surprised if the FBI and NSA start requiring retailers to log cash purchases on their systems.

        If it's an electronic register then it is capable of tracking inventory in real time, and keeping records on each sale and how it was funded. If it is a chain store then it probably connects to the mothership either continuously or at the end of each day. It won't however know *who* payed cash that day until facial recognition gets a little better. All the stores are loaded with cameras already
        • Facebook, Apple, and Google beg to differ. All three have facial recognition that can identify you reliably than most random human beings could. And that's to say nothing of governments.

          Do you know where all the cameras in the stores are these days? Did you catch the pinhole cameras at the registers? Or above the doorways in the motion sensors? And what about Meraki or other retail systems tracking your wifi, cellular, NFC, and bluetooth emitters and correlating that with facial data?

          There is no more p

      • Well obviously they log it anyway for marketing and inventory/accounting purposes

      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        Not saying it is not happening, but in Belgium that would be illegal (unless you have a store card)
        When I buy something the store will not be able to link it to me as I do not have a store card. When I do the payment with the card, they are not allowed to store the card details. I have worked for several retailers and they don't.

        The CC company gets the payment data, but does not get the items that are bought. So they do not know if I bought condoms or milk.

        The CC company has a lot of different types of stor

      • by mjwx ( 966435 )

        Only buy routine items online. For anything that requires a bit of discretion, buy it at a physical store with cash.

        I wouldn't be surprised if the FBI and NSA start requiring retailers to log cash purchases on their systems.

        Fortunately very illegal in my countries (Plural, both the one I came from and the one I'm living in). A merchant is not allowed to tie purchasing data to payment data. One of the secondary purposes of store cards is to tie purchase data to a person (the primary purpose is to keep you going back to that store).

    • Time, Newsweek, the Lifesavers, and the second time bomb from the right.

    • by slazzy ( 864185 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2016 @05:27PM (#51711033) Homepage Journal
      Or do it the other way around buy lots of bizare and unrelated items, you can always sell them later at eBay. Let Amazon wonder how you can be a pregnant gay man parapalegic who buys a lot of shoes and bike pedals.
      • I already do that to some extent. I have a Prime account and routinely buy stuff for a lot of my friends and family. Amazon just pushes whatever is related to my last purchase, whether relevant to my likes or not.

        It's funny watching their "suggestions based on my purchases or browsing history" toys, purses, dresses, jewelry, cookware, crayons, athletic gear, adult diapers, etc., to me, a 63 year old widower who didn't buy any of that kind of stuff for me. I've even seen ads on my phone for Barbie dolls, sim
      • You've struck on a huge part of the problem. The system is good for spotting overall trends buy can be comically inaccurate when it comes to individuals. Like when you buy gifts for your friends that are pregnant, gay, or love shoes.

    • Only buy routine items online. For anything that requires a bit of discretion, buy it at a physical store with cash.

      Almost all stores have in-store security cameras, and facial recognition software has reached the point where, unless you wear a ski mask when you shop, you can almost certainly be identified. Add to that parking lot cameras that can see your license plates and you might as well give up trying to be anonymous. To make matters worse, as people buy more and more online, brick-and-mortar stores are dropping like flies. Just try to find that book you want to buy at a major bookstore near you. Wait, what maj

      • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

        Please cite as I am unaware that any county has figured out how to go fully cashless.

        • by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2016 @07:15PM (#51711669)

          Please cite as I am unaware that any county has figured out how to go fully cashless.

          Sweden [nytimes.com] is almost cashless now, and plans to be fully cashless in the next few years. There are others on the way [totalpayments.org], too.

          • by mjwx ( 966435 )

            Please cite as I am unaware that any county has figured out how to go fully cashless.

            Sweden [nytimes.com] is almost cashless now, and plans to be fully cashless in the next few years. There are others on the way [totalpayments.org], too.

            So they'll serve as a warning to the rest. If Sweden truly becomes cashless (which is something I highly doubt) then you'll see another form of currency replace it, probably from one of it's neighbours.

            Also Canada is a complete misnomer. They recently switched to polymer banknotes and didn't anticipate the extended life expectancy of the new notes. Australia did the same thing and had to cut back on production in the late 90's after fully switching over to polymer notes.

          • That article doesn't say anything about Sweden being "almost" cashless. They use cash at about 1/4 the US rate. Last time I was in Sweden I used local currency and Euros and nobody batted an eye. Well, I was turned away from a restaurant for being "too sporty" which cracked me up.
        • For many places cash is a convenience item for the few only. Pretty much every government that has imposed transaction fee free debit transactions has made huge strides towards being cash free.

          In Australia I never carried more than a $20 note and that usually only got spent when I was eating at restaurants which didn't split bills. In the Netherlands they're a full step further with several places not accepting cash at all any more, and many places offering "pin only" checkouts. Belgium, Finland, Ireland an

        • Please cite as I am unaware that any county has figured out how to go fully cashless.

          bitcoinsylvania

    • Re:Possible solution (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2016 @06:49PM (#51711561) Homepage Journal

      They can tell a lot about you by routine purchases, especially if they look for patterns of change. I've read about the Target case; it isn't just obvious things like buying prenatal vitamins and maternity clothes; a sudden switch in preference for unscented products is common with the hormonal changes pregnant women experience.

      The prediction doesn't have to be perfect to be uncannily accurate.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Re Only buy routine items online.
      Or be seen buying into libertarian philosophies, survivalist literature, self-sufficiency, reading lists about the book of Revelation, big government, constitutional rights and civil liberties, contractors and mass surveillance.
      Give the digital bait for something to track, then change up the online buying habits :)
    • buy stuff for all your friends and neighbors. baby diapers, adult diapers, feminine hygiene products, athletic supporters, ayn rand books, al franken books.
  • by phonewebcam ( 446772 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2016 @04:48PM (#51710759) Homepage

    They appear where? Oh, wait, *that's* what the ABP icon in my toolbar is saying - its been there so long I'd kinda gotten used to it. I must have become ad-blocker blind, if such a convoluted concept exists.

    • Not just ads (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ahziem ( 661857 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2016 @05:18PM (#51710965) Homepage
      It's not just ads: financial companies track your transactions, and by default, they share your information with "partners." Scroll through your credit card usage, and you can quickly imagine how your trips to Starbucks can be used to build a valuable profile. To opt out, they make you mail a paper form because they hope you will be too lazy to find a stamp. Of course, Facebook tracks everything.
      • "To opt out, they make you mail a paper form"

        I don't for a moment believe they actually honor that request.

      • How does Facebook track online banking, or Amazon purchases, since they track "everything"? I don't think "everything" means every thing here.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by kheldan ( 1460303 )

        Of course, Facebook tracks everything

        Reminder: You're a dope if you use Facebook, or any other 'social media' platform. It's like smoking: If you're doing it, you can't in any way claim you didn't know it was a bad idea, but you're doing it anyway. These are not survival traits.

        • Re:Not just ads (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jratcliffe ( 208809 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2016 @06:40PM (#51711515)

          Of course, Facebook tracks everything

          Reminder: You're a dope if you use Facebook, or any other 'social media' platform. It's like smoking: If you're doing it, you can't in any way claim you didn't know it was a bad idea, but you're doing it anyway. These are not survival traits.

          Reminder: the fact that you don't find the costs associated with using a service to be worth the benefits doesn't mean that people who do understand that tradeoff, and find it worthwhile, are "dope[s]."

        • Mostly true, but there is one exception.

          Specifically, if you are PAYING Facebook to advertise to other people, then using it may not be stupid. They are not big on letting people/company pay them unless someone from the company already has a Facebook account.

        • Or, we're just getting more of a "small town lifestyle" in the big cities now. One major complaint I've heard from small towners is that everybody knows your business... well, with data trails, that is true all over now, not just in Mayberry RFD sized communities.

          • True. That's one aspect. Privacy is always a balance between self and community. But what do you reveal, to whom, and who has the power to decide...
            Your point is made by Janna Malamud Smith, Private Matters: In Defense of the Personal Life

            That's the book PJ recommended when she stopped Groklaw, I picked it up because of that, and wasn't disappointed. Very readable, well argued, and a couple good thoughts on private vs. public

            • If I ever get time to read again... the thing about "online sharing" is that it is so new that people don't have much experience with how it works. Most small town residents know that if you show up to the local WalMart with skank of the week hanging on your arm, word will spread - but these same folks will post drunk selfies from places that normally aren't very exposed to the public...

              Give it 20 years, people will learn. Meanwhile, repuationmenders.com has a booming service business.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        How is it even legal for your credit card company to "share" your information with other companies? In the EU it's outlawed by data protection rules. US citizens should demand the same protection!

        • There are a great many of us that do. Unfortunately we have the problem where the advertising and credit card lobby has a stronger and louder "voice".
    • Advertisements aren't just animated GIFs in the sidebar of web pages. Damn near any site with "personalized" content in any form is prone to machinations of advertisers. Even /. filters content displayed on your main page depending on your settings.

      More and more websites are filtering content automatically based on advertiser profiles they have built for every user. Even the searches you perform are tracked and used to tailor results to sites you have visited or searches you've performed in the past.

      This be

      • This becomes an issue in the long run because it's unclear how much information is hidden (by simple omission) from people based on these invisible profiles. There's a very strong potential for the tail to begin wagging the dog: what content websites, search engines, and social networks display can influence user behaviors.

        According to the law of force and counterforce, the tail and the dog wag each other. Your behaviour affects what information you see which affects your behaviour, just like now (you watc

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I thought something similar when I skimmed the headline. I mean, I don't bother using an adblocker, but I also ignore and don't click on banner ads. Then I decided to dig deeper and read the NY Times article in the "Target knowing a woman is pregnant" link. That was a very illuminating article and showed me just how clever companies have gotten about analyzing data and creating marketings strategies around the data.

      Companies like Target can now do intelligent marketing targeted towards you even if you bl

  • I use plugins like Ghostery or similar to block this tracking, and of course an adblocker to block every ad that gets through anyway. On this page alone I block Doubleclick and 2 Google ad widgets.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Recommend disconnect over ghostery

      one is open source, other is owned by ad agency

    • Does that include...

      • janrain.com
      • rpxnow.com
      • ntv.io
      • scorecardresearch.com
      • taboola.com

      ...? I only ask because you only mentioned Google+Doubleclick.

      • rpxnow.com scorecardresearch.com taboola.com

        I don't see those. Of course, I don't see Doubleclick either. But then again, I have NoScript on, so it's likely that slashdot loads the others.

    • Oh how I wish we only had to worry about websites using cookies to track us. It's becoming pretty difficult to avoid being electronically surveilled in today's society.

      • IP address assigned by network provider
      • Vehicle license plate
      • OnStar equipped vehicle
      • Credit/debit card number
      • Transit card number
      • Cellphone's IMEI number
      • Face/biometrics
      • store loyalty card number
      • IP address assigned by network providerNot much you can do about that one, it's the way an IP network works.

        Vehicle license plateGrass-roots campaign to stop automated tracking?

        OnStar equipped vehicleDon't have it in your car. Or physically hack as much of it out of the vehicle as you can. At least find the antennas it's using.

        Credit/debit card numberPay cash for as many things as you can.

        Transit card numberPay cash for the bus/train?

        Cellphone's IMEI numberTurn off your phone when you're not actively using it. At least you minimize the tracking that way.

        Face/biometricsGrass-roots campaign to stop automated tracking? Trying to defeat this just draws more attention unfortunately.

        store loyalty card numberDon't accept/use them, ever. Whether they show it to you or not, there has to be some sort of agreement that you're implicitly agreeing to by accepting the card, and agreement that allows them to collect more data than the law allows otherwise. Never use them or have them at all.

        That's the best advice I can give you, friend.

        • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

          I still haven't figured out the ebay bucks rewards program what do they get in return that they don't already get by me logging in?

          • Sadly, some of these 'rewards' or 'customer loyalty' programs may be 100% legit with no ulterior motives, but you can't tell which ones are and which ones aren't. Therefore I avoid them completely.
      • Toll charges in Washington state are now done by optically recognizing your license plate, then mailing you a bill -- regardless of what state the vehicle is licensed in. (I wonder if they have a reciprocal agreement with Canadian provinces too.) I know because my ex-wife uses a car still registered in my name to visit her friend in Redmond, and by the time the mail got forwarded twice, she had run up $50 in fines for not paying her tolls. And, get this: not receiving the bill is not a valid excuse for not
  • Breadcrumbs make for lousy trail markers. That's the whole point of that story.
  • And yet....we can't seem to track down and prosecute those scumbags who try to scam old people and other tech novices on the Internet. Most scammers know there is little or no chance of them getting caught or facing some kind of consequences for lying and cheating to get money online.
    • Re:Scammers (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Wednesday March 16, 2016 @05:46PM (#51711163)

      "And yet....we can't seem to track down and prosecute those scumbags who try to scam old people and other tech novices on the Internet."

      In fact, if the feds are unable to track down ransomware scammers, I submit that the whole surveillance problem is a mirage. If surveillance tech had the super-powers everyone imagines they have, that would be both a simple problem, and would be a way of making the public feel better about surveillance.

  • Adam Smith, the "father of economics" and one of the original theorists of capitalism, believed that capitalism worked because each participant in the marketplace had an approximately equal capacity with respect to other participants to understand the value which he was exchanging with others. Some people are more clever, or have better memories, or are simply more industrious, but on the whole we are all human beings, and our ability to know more than another has an upper bound.

    That's not true of machine

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I think most economists realize that information asymmetry leads to market distortions, which is partly why stuff like insider trading is actually illegal and the presence of a number of labeling or disclosure laws that require sellers to provide some kinds of information to buyers. At least here, if you've had to call an exterminator in the past year you have to disclose that to a buyer, for example.

      I'm always dismayed, though, at how often lack of transparency is actually allowed through complex billing

      • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

        Suddenlink cable refuses to show their speeds on the mailers they send out.

        Both dish and directtv have contract terms that are longer than their with contract rates eg: $50/mo for the first 2 years with 3 year contract then just $399/mo thereafter.

        Att's (landline and broadband cable maybe diff can't get theirs here) promotional rates last for the full length of the contract term as do verizon's cellular plans.

        The city however is very clear with their plans they list the price and speeds on their flyers and

  • If I need to see ads (or I have been too lazy to block them), I guess I would rather see ads for tech related stuff or other things I have searched for; than have to see a bunch of ads for things like feminine hygiene products.
    • "Relevance" assumes that advertisers have any coherent idea about what your digital exhaust means. We only hear about the rarely specific hits in the media (the example of the pregnant teen is now cited by everyone) and not the millions of misses that nobody remembers or even notices. Just imagine how many false positives and false negatives they come up with,with little or no way of checking if they're right? (Ever been asked if an advertiser's profile of you scraped from the web is correct?) Also, we're v

  • And then the jail part may be very trun. You have X and the ER does not cover that. Try jail.

  • Amazon keeps trying to get me to switch to a amazon business account.

    Who knows might be useful but I still don't see how its would be a improvement over prime.

    Paypal sends me an offer for paypal credit at least once a month. No I don't want an extra 6 months to pay.

    And ebay is now sending me ad's for crap I don't want that's not even related to anything i've looked at what's this new mystery deal thing? Oh lookie it's a roomba what would I do with that?

    • If they want to show up "relevant" ads they need to give us a way to fix their stupid mistakes. Just because I happened to search for something once does not mean I'm interested in buying it.

      • by Alumoi ( 1321661 )

        Just wait a couple of years and you'll be forced to buy it.
        You break it, you pay it will become you saw it, you buy it.

  • I had a talk with a person a while ago about that scenario where I took the Devil's Advocate side of the discussion. Is it really such a horrible thing that Target knows before the family? The lady obviously knows, and it's her secret to tell, so what's the big deal with Target keeping the secret?

    I mean, before big data and big stores, the same clerk might have seen you buy the pregnancy test and then the next day see you buy prenatal vitamins. If it was a small town, even if it wasn't the same cashie
    • Way Different (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The huge difference is the global reach of the corporations and their infinite permanent memory. The old clerk may have seen you purchase a couple of items and may have put two and two together. But, they could never see what you were looking at everywhere you went in town, the next town, on vacation in Italy... They could never remember everything you bought from your babies conception to his college graduation and beyond.

      The scale, the permanency, the ease of access, the inability to threaten the clerk sh

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Wednesday March 16, 2016 @05:47PM (#51711167)

      I had a talk with a person a while ago about that scenario where I took the Devil's Advocate side of the discussion. Is it really such a horrible thing that Target knows before the family? The lady obviously knows, and it's her secret to tell, so what's the big deal with Target keeping the secret?

        I mean, before big data and big stores, the same clerk might have seen you buy the pregnancy test and then the next day see you buy prenatal vitamins. If it was a small town, even if it wasn't the same cashier, their might be enough gossip to connect the two and then they would know before pretty much anyone else. Before that, it might be your bank processing checks, or the credit card company, or whatever. That particular example wasn't super-secret stuff that only a big computer with big data could have figured out.

      Except Target didn't keep it a secret.

      You see, Target has done their market research. They found that the birth of child is the ideal time to shape shopping habits - if a husband and wife shopped at Target for a few basic essentials, then went elsewhere for clothes, groceries and other things before a birth, after a birth, they are highly suggestible to change their shopping habits. So Target wants to find those that are pregnant and send them coupons for essentials they may need with the hopes of attracting them to shop more stuff at Target - get more of their shopping dollars with a family who may be pressed for time and unable to do their usual shopping rounds.

      The problem was, the daughter was making those kind of purchases, and the father wondered why Target was sending her coupons for pregnancy products. Target's analytics found her profile was basically that of a pregnant woman. So the father confronted Target management asking them why they're sending pregnancy-related coupons to their daughter (who you know, is very virtuous and wouldn't have a child out of wedlock, etc. etc. etc).

      Said father later revealed their daughter was a teenage parent a couple of weeks later.

      Target didn't tell them, but she fit the profile, and the parents didn't know until Target basically revealed it to them.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 16, 2016 @05:57PM (#51711247)

      "The lady obviously knows, and it's her secret to tell, so what's the big deal with Target keeping the secret?"

      The thing that bothers a lot of people isn't that target figured something out, it is that target demonstrably isn't "keeping" the secret -- they sent her pregnancy-related things that revealed the secret to her parents before she wanted them to (because fairly predictably, her parents were in the same house, and thus saw things that showed up in the mail for her).

      I don't mind starbucks knowing how much coffee I consume. I do very much mind when they sell that information to an insurance company that starts calculating my life insurance or health insurance rates. If someone is stalking me, I really don't want them to be able to buy from starbucks the information about which starbucks I use when (from which you can derive roughly where I work and my schedule).

      Lots of people browse for porn; it is fine if the provider keeps that info, but when they start selling to the local newspaper a list of people in your town organized by kink, that gets kind of disturbing. Profitable for the porn company perhaps, but most people find that sort of commercialization of data obnoxious.

      Advertisers are demonstrably tracking and sharing a lot of information that I didn't give them. When a social network that I don't have an account on starts recommending me as a "person you might know" to coworkers, that says that they've gathered information about me and my job that I never gave them, which they are now sharing with others. I really don't like that.

      You are correct that we've always had gossips around that might notice something about me and share it with others; that doesn't mean we liked them, or that we think that their behavior should be institutionalized in every corner of our lives.

    • If it was a small town, even if it wasn't the same cashier, their might be enough gossip to connect the two and then they would know before pretty much anyone else.

      Small towns suck. Especially for non-conformists. Talk to a religious/racial minority from a small town. Talk to a gay person. Talk to a Democrat in a town of Republicans (or vice versa).

  • Your Data Footprint Is Affecting Your Life In Ways You Can't Even Imagine

    Headline contains two "your"s and one "you." Clickbait probability: 98%

  • Rather, it's how it is used

    The assumption that correlation implies causation is a common mistake. Real analysis, with a going in assumption the data is incomplete and inaccurate and thus any conclusions must be viewed as suspect is what's needed. Being able to keep competing hypothesis in one's mind and not blindly believing in the data is key to using it properly. Simply accepting the results because it's what the computer said is a pathetic to ruin. It's simply an extension of the cashier who says " Yes,

  • by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @07:35AM (#51713867)

    I don't lend much credibility to this - it sounds far too ominous and sensationalist. I mean, how can I take serious a claim that "They" whoever they are, can "Deeply Affect" everybody's life, when I on a daily basis see how ineptly information is beings handled by nearly all players? These people don't seem able to find their own backsides with two hands and a guide dog. Apart from that - I assume we are talking (yet again) about the overhyped "Incredible Powers of Advertising"? People are perfectly able to ignore the crap; I have spam filters that work well, I have adblockers, noscript and others, and I have a recycling bin by my front door for printed adverts, which I discard out of hand, un-opened.

    I think this kind of stories are a relic of the sizties or seventies, when advertisers actually believed in their imaginings. The trend now is that they are struggling, not least because companies are losing faith in the value. Hopefully it will go completely away soon.

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