Tracking Technology Knows Which Personality You’re Surfing With

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You didn't think The Wall Street Journal would let you go home to your families for the holiday without a new threat to online privacy, did you? The latest takedown in the paper's "What They Know" series looks at the reemergence of "deep packet inspection," which was supposed to have been shamed out of existence after consumer blowback and congressional hearings two years ago. The potentially invasive technology, which intelligence agencies use for surveillance, analyzes "packets" of data across all online activity, not just web browsing. Where websites can install "cookies" or tiny tracking files, this technology goes directly to the data packets that travel between your computer, your Internet service provider, and the websites you browse. According to the Journal, two U.S. companies, Kindsight and Phorm, are pitching deep-packet inspection as a way for Internet service providers, which are under pressure to offer faster services at lower prices, to cash in on the growth of online ads by sending users the lucrative targeted ads based on whether consumers are online "for work, or for fun."

Unlike web-based tracking, which can generate only a single behavioral profile no matter how many people share a computer, Kindsight claims their "secret sauce" is the ability to identify "multiple characters per human."

"If I come online and I'm in work mode, I will show up as a very different character than when I go online Saturday morning and I'm in recreation mode," says [Mike Gassewitz, Kindsight's chief executive]. The targeted ads would reflect which "character" is online.

Only "work" and "fun," mode, huh? What about "lazily scrolling through ex-boyfriend's tumblr while also paying student loans" mode? Or what about "attempting to slog through New Yorker article while downloading leaked Kanye album"? See, there's nothing to worry about. They hardly know you at all.

Shunned Profiling Technology on the Verge of Comeback [WSJ]