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Posted on January 29, 2016

Your Creditworthiness For Sale: How Companies Are Secretly Rating Your Online Behavior

In 2010, the Wall Street Journal ran an article describing how one company, BlueCava, Inc., was silently racing to collect the digital fingerprint of every online device in the world. The reason, according to the article, is that BlueCava is “building a “credit bureau for devices” in which every computer or cellphone will have a “reputation” based on its user’s online behavior, shopping habits and demographics. [The company] plans to sell this information to advertisers willing to pay top dollar for granular data about people’s interests and activities.” At time of publication, BlueCava predicated that it would collect the digital fingerprint of 1 billion devices by the end of the year. That was five years ago.

Consider the issues introduced by a marketplace where data about consumers’ online “reputations” are bought and sold without their knowledge or consent. To start, the exchange raises serious legal questions. Traditional credit bureaus are subject to strict regulations to ensure, among other things, that incorrect information about a person’s credit isn’t spread without his or her knowledge, as it could cause endless frustration for an individual attempting to, for example, obtain a credit card or purchase a car. No such regulation exists in the online consumer data marketplace. Imagine being denied a credit card because the credit card company has obtained data, secretly collected via your digital fingerprint, that suggests you’re an irresponsible shopper. If you disagree with that assessment, there is no avenue of recourse. And the effects of this marketplace could be even more palpable than the hypothetical refusal of a line of credit.

“Personalized pricing” looms large on the horizon of online shopping. In simple terms, personalized pricing refers to the practice of charging consumers different prices based on their unique personal characteristics. For example, if Company X knows that you’re shopping online from a computer located in a wealthy neighborhood, it might mark up the prices you see on its website. The opposite may be true if your computer is located in an economically depressed neighborhood. It may sound improbably futuristic, but personalized pricing is closer than you might think: the airline industry recently hinted that it will likely adopt the strategy.

When combined, personalized pricing and the collection of consumer reputation data via digital fingerprints form a disturbing ensemble. Your online reputation—that is, data secretly collected about your online activities based on a unique digital fingerprint that you leave behind—may dictate the price of goods that you see while shopping on the web. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Stay ahead of the personalized pricing curve. Download TrackOFF privacy software now and protect your digital fingerprint from collection. Not doing so may cost you—literally.

— Chandler Givens
Co-founder, TrackOFF
[email protected]