How to stop companies like Rapleaf from selling your personal info

Again Facebook is in the news for a privacy breach, but this time the culprits were top-ranked apps, including Farmville, Texas HoldEm Poker and Frontierville, which leaked Facebook users' personal IDs to advertisers. Personal IDs can be linked to a wealth of other information -- including name, age, where you live, social networks, income and interests -- that firms like Rapleaf sell to advertisers

The Wall Street Journal
investigated and found out that Rapleaf had linked Facebook user IDs to other personal data and transmitted it to advertisers. Rapleaf claims that the sharing of the Facebook IDs was not done on purpose.

One of the primary purposes for selling this information, which does not specifically identify the individual, is to allow advertisers to create more targeted advertisements. For example, if Rapleaf identifies you as a single male in the 25 to 34 age range with a high income, you'll likely see different ads than a 55-year-old female on a fixed income. In this example the advertiser knows to serve a group of 25- to 34-year old males specific ads, but it doesn't know who those individuals actually are.

When this is done without any personally identifying information attached, and with an accurate profile of the users information, the user will see ads that are relevant to them instead of ads better suited for someone of another age group. The problems start when the advertisers are given a unique piece of information, such as a Facebook user ID, which can be tracked back to a specific person or when the information is not accurate.

We first looked at Rapleaf in 2009 when the firm told Fast Company that its data could be used to help banks make better loan decisions. At the time, we didn't like the idea for several reasons, including the vast amount of inaccurate data that was tied to my personal account, which listed me with three names, two genders, an age range that spanned 30 years and several vacation homes. Over the past year, the accuracy has improved but it still shows inaccurate information about income and home ownership on the record we tested.

Here is a sample of the information that Rapleaf will show you when you log in.

The good news is that you can take control of your Rapleaf data, either fix errors or to opt out of tracking tied to your e-mail address. You can view all of your information by creating an account on Rapleaf, which will show you a good deal of the personal information the company has gathered about you from public, online information, surveys, census data and other sources. You can remove individual pieces of information or completely opt out from Rapleaf and from the third-party networks that Rapleaf works with.

Other firms track this information as well, here are a few big names and how to opt out. To opt out of numerous data collection firms at once visit the Network Advertising Initiative opt out page.
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