I found out what they have on me!
Long before Facebook existed there were companies that assembled data about consumers. Some of these companies include Acxiom, Epsilon, Datalogix and many others. They collect data about everyone and store this in databases, ostensibly for the purpose of re-selling their dossier to advertising and marketing businesses. Businesses like to direct their advertising to consumers who are more likely to purchase their product or service.
Facebook lists the data aggregators they work with so I contacted one of them to find out what they have on me. The aggregator provided a generic summary of the information – with hints that they have much more detailed information that leads to their high level category descriptions. Presumably they are selling the high level category and not the specifics (“you bought 50 pounds of dry brand-name dog food on April 1, 2010”).
There is nothing embarrassing in the list of information they provided (yay! LOL) but the list reveals indirectly who is selling our data.
For example, the list I received said that we “donate to medical research causes”. Since we know exactly who we donated too, we now know who sold our donation information. This marks us a a “target” for other groups to pester us about a donation.
Personal data like this can also be a gold mine to targeted propaganda efforts-especially when combined with Facebook’s pyschographic profiling of your behavior and emotional state.
Some of the data is surprisingly wrong – age, income, type of vehicle we own, length of time in residence – all wrong.
The database also identifies someone in the household as an avid walker and another as a jogger.
My wife is an avid walker and for a time, logged her walks, privately, in an online run/walk/hike web site to track her mileage. The only way a data aggregator knows this is someone sold them this information – and obviously the web site she was using sold the data. There is no other way, short of watching her walk to make this judgement.
She is also classified as interested in “sewing/needlework/knitting”. While not exactly correct, she does have a related hobby – and buys her supplies from a specific arts and crafts retail store – which sold her purchase information.
Similarly, I am a jogger and for a time, I used an online web site to measure my route distances They too sold that information.
It also looks like a well known, global online e-commerce site is selling generic information about items we have purchased. Some of the identified “Interests” related to items we have only purchased from this global e-commerce retailer.
As the dossier identified “Home Improvement, DIY and wood working”, it is likely that big box home improvement stores have sold information about our purchases.
We knew that much of what we do was being tracked. What we did not know was who is collecting and selling our data. By seeing the data that was logged we can identify the source and this might be the most useful bit of information you can extract from the information provided by third party data aggregators.