RapLeaf is tracking you by name and address

October 25, 2010

While the Wall Street Journal makes big waves with its “expose” of Facebook’s privacy and data leak problems, one of the most venerable of the web data collectors continues to stalk you quietly around the Web.

According to Wikipedia, RaplLaf is a Web 2.0 start-up company based in San Francisco, California founded by Auren Hoffman and Manish Shah. Acting primarily a B2B firm, RapLeaf’s database of consumer information helps businesses segment customers, understand consumer penetration across social media, plan online marketing campaigns, find influential customers for customer relationship management, and investigate fraud. RapLeaf was founded in 2006 and has never looked back, neatly sliding consumers into multiple pigeonholes that define their activities on the Web.

What sets RapLeaf apart is that they not only know exactly who you are and what you like and want; they also know your email address. That is a rare specialty in online data collections circles and RapLeaf is said to do it better than anyone else. A WSJ story on RapLeaf tells the story of one person that the data collection company knows (absolutely correctly and only in part) as “a conservative who is interested in Republican politics, has an interest in the Bible and contributes to political and environmental causes.” They know exactly who she is and how to target her with emails that push her hot buttons.

This sort of personal data collection and targeting has often been ballyhooed by the collectors and the marketers as a way to save a shopper time and effort, so that they would only need to look at products and causes that they like. Think of it as an entire world of cause and effect just like the one where conservatives only pay attention to Fox News and liberals only pay attention to the Huffington Post. People are becoming aware that almost every fact that that they hold dear about themselves is neatly cataloged in someone else’s databases, and worse, it is for sale to whomever wants to buy it.

Now that we have let this happen, we are becoming frightened of it. Sorry, folks, it’s already too late.

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