Facebook Is Using You – NYTimes.com

by peterjukes

In the 1970s, a professor of communication studies at Northwestern University named John McKnight popularized the term “redlining” to describe the failure of banks, insurers and other institutions to offer their services to inner city neighborhoods. The term came from the practice of bank officials who drew a red line on a map to indicate where they wouldn’t invest. But use of the term expanded to cover a wide array of racially discriminatory practices, such as not offering home loans to African-Americans, even those who were wealthy or middle class.

Now the map used in redlining is not a geographic map, but the map of your travels across the Web. The term Weblining describes the practice of denying people opportunities based on their digital selves. You might be refused health insurance based on a Google search you did about a medical condition. You might be shown a credit card with a lower credit limit, not because of your credit history, but because of your race, sex or ZIP code or the types of Web sites you visit.

Data aggregation has social implications as well. When young people in poor neighborhoods are bombarded with advertisements for trade schools, will they be more likely than others their age to forgo college? And when women are shown articles about celebrities rather than stock market trends, will they be less likely to develop financial savvy? Advertisers are drawing new redlines, limiting people to the roles society expects them to play.

Data aggregators’ practices conflict with what people say they want. A 2008 Consumer Reports poll of 2,000 people found that 93 percent thought Internet companies should always ask for permission before using personal information, and 72 percent wanted the right to opt out of online tracking. A study by Princeton Survey Research Associates in 2009 using a random sample of 1,000 people found that 69 percent thought that the United States should adopt a law giving people the right to learn everything a Web site knows about them. We need a do-not-track law, similar to the do-not-call one. Now it’s not just about whether my dinner will be interrupted by a telemarketer. It’s about whether my dreams will be dashed by the collection of bits and bytes over which I have no control and for which companies are currently unaccountable.

via Facebook Is Using You – NYTimes.com.