August 5, 2010 – In the amount of time it takes to click a button, your computer is sending thousands of lines of code about you and where you’ve been on the Internet to your next stop on the information highway – without asking.

The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted a company called [x+1] Inc. in its article, “On the Web’s Cutting Edge, Anonymity in Name Only”. [x+1] taps into vast databases of people’s online behavior—mainly gathered behind closed “windows” by tracking technologies that have become a mainstay on websites. They don’t search by names, but cross-reference the data retrieved by the tracking technology with records of home ownership, family income, marital status, favorite restaurants, and so forth. After analyzing it statistically, they begin to make assumptions. Enough data and enough assumptions, they can narrow you down to one of just 64 or so people worldwide.

Besides the uneasy feeling this article has now left in my stomach, there are other concerns. The “profiling” based on your web history puts you into one of 66 demographic profiles. What is the ontology of those profiles? Has the semantic web evolved enough to pinpoint your identity by the trail of cookie crumbs you leave behind? Do you really want it to?

Melody K. Smith

Sponsored by Data Harmony, a unit of Access Innovations, the world leader in indexing and making content findable.