Sunday, March 15, 2009

What I Learned About Myself thru Rapleaf

While checking out some bartering or swapping sites (inspired by "As economy slows down, bartering picks up steam" in today's Seattle Times), I came across the "Rapleaf" service, used by the "SwapThing" site to provide "reputation" information.

Curious about my "reputation" I signed onto Rapleaf, and soon discovered:
Name: r winn
Age: 52
Gender: Male
Location: Seattle, WA, US (map)
First Known Activity: Over 5 Years Ago
Latest Known Activity: 10 Minutes Ago
Number of Friends: 150

There followed direct links to my profile on several sites with more information that, frankly, was probably more useful. For example, clicking on the Facebook link revealed:
Randall E. Winn is a fan of:
Wallace and Gromit
Nicholas D. Kristof
Free Press
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
Roanoke Inn Tavern
Shaun the Sheep
Most of this information seems more-or-less truthy. I'm not sure about the map location, near Madison and 5th. The streetlevel photo was of a parking garage that I have walked by, although not recently.

So how does Rapleaf figure this out? According to its site:

Rapleaf Service

"Rapleaf allows you to discover, manage, and control your information so you may prevent others from abusing or misinterpreting your information. Rapleaf has searched your email address across the Internet at various social networks and other online communities. Rapleaf summarizes information from many sources to determine the most likely accurate information.
The information collected is publicly available and accessible with ordinary web browsers. The information shown on Rapleaf will not be disclosed to the general public. Because your information is publicly available on the Internet, individuals may find this information on their own.
Rapleaf works with businesses who already have an existing relationship with you. This may include business whose products or services you have used in the past.
Rapleaf allows businesses to better understand their consumers, such as you, in order to provide a more relevant user experience for you and add more value to their products and services.

Rapleaf will not sell, rent, or lease your email address."
That last line gave me a good laugh. Rapleaf will sell everything but your email address: what a relief!

The technology behind all this seems pretty straightforward to anyone who's ever down databases, and it seems pretty much inevitable. Heck, when I was working for the Massive Mutual Insurance Company, we were already crunching Way Too Much Information about people to facilitate selling them Way Too Much Insurance Coverage; the big difference is now that everyone can learn about you cheaply and easily. The democratization of snoopiness may or may not be a good thing but I don't see how it can be avoided.

I do take two important lessons from this:
  • Don't post your physical address anywhere on the internet, if you don't want people to know you live in a parking garage.
  • People are going to find out if you're a fan of Shaun the Sheep. So be proud of who you are!

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