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Free Breadcrumbs Beta – Slaps Down Data Miners

imageIt’s illusionary to believe that information and services on the Internet are free – there’s a strict tradeoff involved. Here’s the deal:

You get access to “free” information and services, and in return – you buy into the condition that each site you visit has the right to spy on you, and build a profile on your browsing habits – the type of sites you visit and revisit, time spent on sites, your shopping and spending habits, your political views, your marital status, and much more.

For example, when I read my local newspaper, ten behavior trackers come into play. The personal data mined by these trackers will be analyzed, on the fly, with the objective being to target me with highly specific advertising – based on my current and previous Internet behavior.

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That’s the immediate outcome. But long term, the personal information gathered will be sold, bartered and traded (to bypass the disclaimer – “we will not sell your information”), so that it can be used in multiple ways that generate profit.

And, that’s the upside. If there’s one thing the Internet has taught us, it’s – if information can be abused – it will be abused.

Companies that defend this intrusion into my privacy love to throw around a ton of sexy words – predictive analytics, customer profiling, customer segmentation, predictive modeling, lifestyle clustering – that they’ve managed to infuse into an activity that is ethically questionable. Painted allusions, all.

Time Magazine’s Joel Stein’s recent article – Data Mining: How Companies Now Know Everything About You is an eye opener, and definitely worth a read.

A couple of outtakes:

“Three hours after I gave my name and e-mail address to Michael Fertik, the CEO of Reputation.com, he called me back and read my Social Security number to me. “We had it a couple of hours ago,” he said. “I was just too busy to call.”

“Right after I e-mailed a friend in Texas that I might be coming to town, a suggestion for a restaurant in Houston popped up as a one-line all-text ad above my Gmail inbox.”

There are limited methods that can be employed to protect privacy on the Internet – some more effective than others. I recently came across a beta application that may well be a “better” solution. Breadcrumbs Privacy Software is based on one guiding principal – disseminating disinformation.

According to the developer – “Breadcrumbs bogus Identity feature automatically creates a Bogus Identity for you, thus preventing trackers from analyzing your real browsing information, leaving them with useless data.”

I’m in the process of testing Breadcrumbs so this review is very preliminary but, it’s worth bringing to your attention, nevertheless.

Installation is simple and the application settings are limited, but effective. Click on the graphic to expand to original.

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The dashboard will give you the opportunity to “watch the watchers” and block selectively. Click on the graphic to expand to original.

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The most interesting feature of Breadcrumbs is the promise that it will build a “‘bogus identity” which will mislead watchers. After running the application for several days, I have yet to see any evidence of this bogus identity.

The developer spoke to this issue in a follow up email –

“In order for the feature to work it first needs to “learn the user” then it will synthesize what bogus data should be added in order to mask your real data and identity (so give it a few more hours/days). All of the learning process is encrypted and is done on the client-side, hence no one can see or use it but the software (and in the future you).”

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Fast facts:

Create your bogus identity – Breadcrumbs bogus Identity feature automatically creates a Bogus Identity for you, thus preventing trackers from analyzing your real browsing information, leaving them with useless data.

The Do Not Track Me stamp – Once enabled, the Do Not Track Me stamp identifies you as a Breadcrumbs Protected User. It tells trackers that you do not wish to be tracked, and also lets them know that they will be fooled by your Bogus Identity in case they decide to track you anyway.

Watchers Analytics – Breadcrumbs Watchers Analytics feature enables you to see who is watching you online. It’s an easy way to block ads and prevent trackers from tracking you across the Internet.

System Requirements: Windows XP, Vista and 7. (32-bit versions only) Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1 or above. (Breadcrumbs installer will alert you in case .NET Framework installation is needed)

Supported Web Browsers: Internet Explorer 7 or above. (including IE9). Firefox 3.6 or above. (including FF4). Google Chrome.

Download at: Developer’s site (Breadcrumb Solutions)

Breadcrumbs Usage and Demo: Video 2:26

I often hear from people who feel that since the information being mined is anonymous, no real invasion of privacy is taking place. While that may have been the case previously, that’s not the case currently.

Consider readingPrivacy: reidentification a growing risk.

I think this application is heading in the right direction. If Data Miners won’t play by the rules, or continue to be ethically challenge, then we need to consider the benefits of providing them we information that is essentially worthless. This application may offer a solution in that direction.

Note: The developer has advised me, that a new beta version with bug fixes and some improvements, will be released in the next few weeks.

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