Data exchanges know all about you; soon they'll impact cybersecurity

Our digital lives, physical locations and credit card usage are traded on exchanges. If there’s such a thing as “surveillance capitalism,” data exchanges are the closest thing to three letter intelligence agencies.

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Many consumers have noticed online ads with a surprising knowledge of devices belonging to them. Ads displaying an awareness of purchases, travel and communications, made on sites theoretically separated from the ad delivery platform. They even display a knowledge of purchases at brick and mortar stores. This is because information about our digital lives, our physical locations, and our credit card usage, are now traded and rented on data exchanges. If there is such a thing as “surveillance capitalism,” data exchanges could become the closest thing to three letter intelligence agencies.

Before taking a peek behind the curtain, let’s walk through tracking a user across the web. Typically, a user’s IP address is known by websites that he or she visits. Yet this IP only narrows down to an ISP, network, or to the geographic precision of a town. Here customers are triangulated only to a vague demographic.

Depending on the settings, a user's devices may volunteer his geolocation down to a 10-foot radius. At this level of granularity, it’s known which building his device is in now, and where it has been in the past. This provides a detailed profile of a specific consumer of information and products.

When apps are installed, users are often quick to accept terms of service. This may include allowing the makers of those apps to eavesdrop using the microphone of the device the apps are installed on. For instance, your child’s game apps may be working with a company like Alphonso. Per the New York Times, Alphonso listens on the microphone to track which TV shows are watched, even when not using the app. Ever seen a product advertisement magically pop up after only a verbal discussion? No authoritative studies have verified this capability, yet amateur studies inducing ads through verbal queues can be found on the internet. Sound paranoid? Read on.

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