I have a confession to make. I have knowingly used 'misleading' information when prompted for personal details by web site registration systems. With this admission I am probably now on the watch list for many commercial Internet companies.
Well, the days of being able to use misleading information may be over. Soon, everyone will know if you're a dog or not.
On March 29th, 2007 Xerox submitted patent application 20070073681 entitled "User Profile Classification By Web Usage Analysis." The application covers a method that can either eliminate the need for web sites to request personal information or invalidate the information provided. The application itself is an algorithm communicated though 16 figures consisting of flow charts, vectors, and plots. The application's detailed description states:
"When accessing a set of web pages, Internet users that share a common profile attribute, such as a particular demographic characteristic, may choose to access similar or identical pages within the set. For example, some web pages may appeal to persons having a particular gender. However, a user having the particular gender will not necessarily access all web pages that are of interest to other users sharing the same gender. Thus, the fact that a user has accessed a particular web page can be informative, but the fact that the user has not accessed other web pages may not necessarily be as informative. In accordance with the present invention, the set of web pages accessed (or "visited") by a user comprise a web page access pattern which can be analyzed to predict profile attributes "
Essentially, what Xerox has come with a method to determine demographic information such as age, sex and maybe even your income anyway by analysing your web page usage pattern and comparing it to a database of usage patterns from other users with a known background. My take on the application is that it doesn't matter if you use misleading information or choose not to reveal who you are, they have come up with a way to find out something about you simply by your information seeking patterns.
The application does not address privacy concerns.
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