Your Personal Details in Cyberspace

It’s no surprise that websites today have access to information that identifies us, but what is shocking is the amount of access they have, and how much of this information is then passed on to other companies and websites. A quick glance at the following chart gives us a bit of insight into how much of our (very basic) sensitive information is being shared by the top sites in the US.

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While things like email, username, even our name and ZIP codes, seems rather harmless for websites to know, companies are already using this information to link our online browsing habits to our real-life identities. A potential car buyer enters his information online, and within the few seconds it takes the form to go through, the car dealership already knows what kind of cars he’s been browsing for on his home computer, and which websites he’s visited or consulted. By the time the buyer gets to the dealership, they’ve already been able to personalize his buying experience.

“In pursuit of ever more precise and valuable information about potential customers, tracking companies are redefining what it means to be anonymous.”

A WSJ examination of top websites has concluded that using real, instead of pseudo, identities is rapidly becoming mainstream. Because of websites like Twitter and Facebook, where users can retweet, “like” or “share” with their real identities, code used by tracking companies such as Consider Dataium LLC, which gather and collate information about users’ browsing habits, “can match people’s identities with their Web-browsing activities on an unprecedented scale and can even track a user’s arrival on a page if the button is never clicked.”

Recently, more and more websites have been making it possible (and sometimes required)  for users to log in with a Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking account. In addition, I’ve noticed that all of these sites allow you to link your other accounts, so that you can share information freely between them. Instead of having multiple online identities, our identities are beginning to come together and become inter-linked. I recall back in middle and high school, when creating screen names and accounts on sites meant creating a pseudo-name, and being careful about sharing our personal information online. Now, people can check into their current locations on Facebook, use their real names, share personal photos, etc. Online identities are rapidly evolving, and so is our sense of security. Where will we go next? In two years from now, how much information will we feel perfectly comfortable sharing?


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3 Responses to Your Personal Details in Cyberspace

  1. mattpuls says:

    I find your point that the amount of data we give up on the internet is growing very interesting. I don’t think much about how much personal information I am giving up when I simply create an account and how that information is being shared. It doesn’t really become apparent to me how much my privacy is being intruded on until I am able to see how much information companies actually have on me. Another post referred to a site called BlueKai where it shows the profile ad companies have on you and you are able to confirm the perceptions they have of you. This opened my eyes to how easily I could be profiled simply for the use of advertising.
    I have also noticed sites requiring a Facebook account in order to make a profile on the site. I see this as a large breach in privacy because it allows those in control of that data access to a full account of personal data, whether there are privacy settings on the account or not.
    I feel that the amount of personal data we are comfortable sharing will only increase if there is a natural way to do it online. Facebook revolutionized the way we share data, and it came naturally to people and they did not fear the consequences. I don’t think people will be comfortable sharing much more personal data than is already being shared because it has reached a point that many people are beginning to be uncomfortable with it when faced with the knowledge of how much is shared. I don’t think any new mediums, like Facebook was, will emerge that will coax as much personal information out of people as it did in such a natural-feeling way.

  2. sterlinc says:

    Wow I remember the days when I used to pick a good alias online, when I first got the internet with AOL. I also remember when people were so scared to use the internet because of horror stories of impersonation. Back in the day, I would always use a fake name, birthdate, and zipcode for my email accounts, and if I chatted with anyone in a chatroom or instant messaging, I would also give false information. But it has become a complete 180. I think it has happened since there is a “sense” of better encryption on the part of social media websites. I feel as if facebook and twitter have killed mnstant messaging software like AOL, MSN, and Yahoo.

  3. caprince11 says:

    It is amazing that we now give so much personal information out for the world to see. On one hand I have found benefits from this, when I have been trying to get a hold of someone I met, or remember what they’re email was..probably 9 out of 10 times I am able to go online search around and find the information I need to contact someone. But I have recently also become more reluctant to put my information everywhere that claims it’s necessary, because now entering the real world soon and having people judge me by a combination of my online identities I want to be careful what I am displaying as well as protect myself from any fraud.

    Last note, sometimes I wonder what if I was completely absent from online. Virtually anonymous to the virtual world. Some users delete their Facebooks now and then, but what if you had the option to completely erase any online bread crumbs connected to you, would you want to do that?

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