Taking the 'Rap' For Facebook's Privacy Woes
Why the focus on RapLeaf rather than countless other tracking services? Because, along with tracking consumers' voter-registration records, shopping histories, social-networking activities and real estate records, among other information, RapLeaf records their full names and email addresses.
"Most trackers either can't or won't keep the ultimate piece of personal information--your name," reports The Journal. What's more, "The industry often cites this layer of anonymity as a reason online tracking shouldn't be considered intrusive."
And while RapLeaf claims it doesn't disclose consumers' names to clients for online advertising, just possessing real names means the company can build what The Journal calls "extraordinarily intimate databases on people."
GigaOm's Om Malik calls RapLeaf "the real culprit" behind the recent uproar over privacy and Facebook.
Specifically, "Rapleaf says it doesn't transmit personally identifiable data for online advertising, but the WSJ found that is not the case," Malik notes. "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."
Yet, "A number of privacy experts said they believe Rapleaf is being disingenuous," CNNMoney.com reported late last week. "They noted that the company links users' names and e-mail addresses to many social networking profiles ... and sells that information to third-parties."
Under the headline, "The Creepy Company Compiling a File on Your Online Activity--Using Your Real Name," Gawker writes: "It's not easy to avoid being tracked online, for better or worse--and it may only be a matter of time before your name being part of your file becomes standard practice in the industry."
Whether that scenario comes to pass, or whether RapLeaf -- which has survived negative press in the past -- will fold under media pressure remains to be seen. Just in the last week, however, the company has toned down the degree to which it segments consumers -- for now.