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Internet Refines Its Profiling Skills Against You

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Internet profileby Scott Alan Morrison, The Daily Beast

The success of the consumer Internet can be attributed to a simple grand bargain. We’ve been encouraged to search the Web, share our lives with friends, and take advantage of all sorts of other free services. In exchange, the Internet titans that provide these services, as well as hundreds of other lesser-known firms, have meticulously tracked our every move in order to bombard us with targeted advertising. Now, this grand bargain is being tested by new attitudes and technologies.

Consumers who were not long ago blithely dismissive of privacy issues are increasingly feeling that they’ve lost control over their personal information. Meanwhile, Internet companies, adtech firms, and data brokers continue to roll out new technologies to build ever more granular profiles of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of consumers. And with next generation of artificial intelligence poised to exploit our data in ways we can’t even imagine, the simple terms of the old agreement seem woefully inadequate.

In the early days of the Internet, we were led to believe that all this data would deliver us to a state of information nirvana. We were going to get new tools and better communications, access to all the information we could possibly need, and ads we actually wanted to receive. Who could possibly argue with that?

For a while, the predictions seemed to be coming true. But then privacy goalposts were (repeatedly) moved, companies were caught (accidentally) snooping on us, and hackers showed us just how easy it is to steal our personal information. Advertisers weren’t thrilled either, particularly when we adopted mobile phones and tablets. That’s because the cookies that track us on our computers don’t work very well on mobile devices. And with our online activity split among our various devices, each of us suddenly appeared to be two or three different people.

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© 2016 The Daily Beast

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