Last week, I pointed out that in the recent brouhaha over privacy and Facebook, the real culprit was San Francisco-based identity and information aggregator, Rapleaf. And then I explained how the company gathers information, especially by partnering with third-party applications and services such as eTacts, Rapportive and several more.
Today, Wall Street Journal’s Emily Steel has written an in-depth (and excellent) expose of this company, whose tentacles are spread deep into the Internet.
Here is what The Wall Street Journal found:
- Rapleaf knows your real names and email addresses.
- It can build rich profiles by tapping voter-registration files, shopping histories, social-networking activities and more. In effect, it can built the ultimate dossier on you.
- Rapleaf sells pretty elaborate data that includes household income, age, political leaning, and even more granular details such as your interest in get-rich-quick schemes.
- According to the WSJ, Rapleaf segments people into 400 categories.
- Rapleaf says it doesn’t transmit personally identifiable data for online advertising, but the WSJ found that is not the case. Rapleaf shared a unique Facebook ID to at least 12 companies and a unique MySpace ID number to six companies. Any sharing was accidental, the company said.
- Politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, are using Rapleaf. It has provided data to 10 political campaigns
Rapleaf’s web of cookies and data-collection end points is pretty vast. Last week, I shared some of the names with you, but it is a lot larger. Add several others to that list of companies:
When a person logs in to certain sites, the sites send identifying information to RapLeaf, which looks up that person in its database of email addresses.
Then, RapLeaf installs a “cookie,” a small text file, on the person’s computer containing details about the individual (minus name and other identifiable facts). Sites where this happened include e-card provider Pingg.com, advice portal About.com and picture service TwitPic.com.
In some cases, RapLeaf also transmits data about the person to advertising companies it partners with.
“Twenty-two companies, including Google’s Invite Media, confirmed receiving data from RapLeaf,” the Journal writes.
Before I go, hats off to Emily for doing such a great and in-depth piece. Clearly, it messes up plans for my next post, but I felt it was important enough for me to share what WSJ discovered with you all.
Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):