The Never Ending Personality Test… Featuring YOU !

In the early days of internet online personality test websites promised to deliver a telling assessment of one’s IQ based on a few simple multiple choice questions.

The results were formulaic and methods unscientific, with verdicts like: “creative”, “thoughtful”, “introvert” dished out to inquisitive web users. The service had people willingly participating in the questionnaires in the hope of finding out about their true self.

These days the personality test is always running and you are in it whether you know it or not.

There are national newspapers requesting your medical history before displaying an article, or websites offering free pirated software and games in return for a completed survey.

Behind the scenes big corporations like Facebook, Google, and many of the 123 biggest Ad Networks listed by the Digital Advertising Alliance are using advanced user profiling technologies then profiting by selling your data.

High Price for Low-Rent Actors

Everything you do online can be used against you. No case typifies this more than Ashley Madison, the dating site for married people who want an affair. The site was hacked, user data then became widely available online which has allegedly led to two suicides by users of the site.

If that’s not bad enough, the site accepted users from Saudi Arabia where adultery can lead to archaic punishments, AM accepted 15k emails sign-ups from the US Military’s .mil email suffix (some real, some not because no confirmation was needed to join so users could use any email). Having an affair while enrolled in the US military is a court martial punishable crime which can lead to dishonourable discharge which in turn could strip that person of their military pension.

Without moralising on Ashley Madison’s “Life’s short, have an affair” motto, surely suicide, life imprisonment or future destitution and countless relationships ruined has to come first. User privacy seems to have been omitted from their USP, while the hackers may now be considered guilty by association in the death of two people. Ashley Madison, or the data dump is unprecedented mass media because let’s face it: when the US retailer Target experienced a similarly pernicious hack the information leaked was about people’s shopping history and that doesn’t quite have the same payload as knowing someone’s extra-marital behaviour.

Is that candidate for the job you have advertised a potential adulterer?

Is that candidate for the job you have advertised a potential adulterer? Data protection laws give compensation when a “loss” can be proven, but life, limb or holding your family together are not monetary items. Yet, there’s currently no way back from these hacks, data dumps and sloppy approaches to responsibilities for people online. So who has your back?

No Such Thing As Opt-Out

It’s not enough close an account because the data you entered and the profiles created by third party companies that monitor your computer continue even after if you ask to opt-out. Take Ashley Madison who sells “Full Delete” of your tracks at the site as a premium function, or instances when a company enters bankruptcy they will often sell on your data on as a valuable asset.

It’s all on the Terms & Conditions, but who reads them? Researchers estimate that it would take seventy-six work days to read the T’s & C’s associated with one years’ worth of surfing!

There is one version of your digital-self and is tied to you wherever you go online. Offline you are many people, from quiet neighbour to rowdy football fan. These are very different personas. And sadly you can’t track the trackers. As things stand you are even further from finding out the answer to just what your personality is adjudged to be.

The test is ongoing, the results ever changing, your digital shadow cast large making opt-out an untenable option.

This is because it is your behaviour not your identity that’s in demand – no one cares if you are a dog on the internet. You might use a fake name, email, phone number and phone but who you call, when, from where and your movements in-between are so unique – and predictable – that they will recognise you the IMEI, IP address, Mac code or UID even after you opt out of cookies.

Avoiding the internet and closing accounts would have little effect because the data produced during your internet ‘life’ is dormant, not supressed, not deleted it is merely lying dormant like a virus in abatement.

You Are (Still) The Product

If being tracked is not creepy enough, remember there are hundreds of companies – ones you’ve never heard of – snooping on your habits trailing you and creating a “digital shadow”.

It’s all on the Terms & Conditions, but who reads them?

Sure you can close your Facebook or try to avoid Google, but there is no way to sidestep tracking cookies or the data collection as it is done unbeknown to you, and — crucially— without your consent.

The hidden algorithms profiling users have become so pernicious that a recent Facebook patent would allow credit scoring companies to determine your credit-worthiness on the standing of your network – imagine that – to get a mortgage your friends must have a good credit history.

Affirm is a start-up company already offers personal loans based on your friends’ financial standing. Lenddo is another start-up doing likewise, but offers the service to third-party sites. Imagine a future where eBay or Amazon offer loans to users whose social network friends are credit-scored.

In fact, basing a loan on the credit history of your friends is not far from an outlawed practice known as redlining, (or weblining in web terms) where insurance companies discriminated against communities based on lifestyle habits and social background.

This Is Not A Test

Unlike the fairly innocuous personality tests and the data delivered via completing one, or doing a survey this drill for data, is not a test.

And it’s not the sites you know about which are the problem; it’s the ones you don’t know about: the hundreds of third party ad-exchanges and data warehouses busily profiling you.

Common knowledge that Google, Amazon, Facebook, Pinterest, Doubleclick are tracking, remarketing and profiling your internet habits, but there are other outfits that you have never heard of, for example, Bidswitch, Brightcove, Crimtan, Sonobi, Taboola. These companies are the go-betweens, the super-fast switches between your browser and those firms trying push ads to you while you browse. It’s these companies who pay the content bills for publishers whose ‘free’ content you are enjoying.

Data is the oil of the net and there is a rush on to extract it, but what some might wonder is “at what cost” the wells of privacy and private life should be fracked for even more data.