You played poker online a few times and didn’t tell anybody. You didn’t have to. The bank you hope will give you a mortgage just purchased your online profile from a data broker and now wonders whether your history of gambling makes you a risky borrower.
Tech entrepreneur Christian Bennefeld is betting people are beginning to want privacy when connected to their devices. His eBlocker Pro is a simple plug-in device that hides your IP address and stops all tracking activities.
Just where our information winds up are so mind boggling, but “the mind shift is happening with people. They are becoming aware,” Bennefeld told Cult of Mac. “If you are browsing, you are getting tracked. We just give the user the right to decide whether or not they want to be tracked.”
The Web Privacy Census tracks the tracking mechanisms, such as HTTP cookies, Flash cookies, and HTML5 storage. Last year, the census found the Google tracking infrastructure 923 of the top 1,000 websites. Users who visit the homepage of the top 100 sites would collect 6,000 HTTP cookies, with 83 percent being third-party cookies.
A simple Google search for data brokers lists dozens of companies selling data lists. Tech users here are slowly growing weary of online surveillance and a market for information blocking devices and ad-blocker apps are on the rise.
Bennefeld hails from Germany, which has strict online privacy laws plus a healthy community of online privacy groups working to increase awareness.
He has experience on both sides of the tracks. He started the company etracker, which provides companies with web data analysis but integrated with strict privacy assurances. Bennefeld said his inspiration for the eBlocker was his first iPad when he discovered he could not be anonymous when using the device.
“I say Steve Jobs is guilty,” Bennefeld said with a laugh. “I had all these tools on my PC that prevented profiling and I couldn’t install anything on my iPad. I realized we needed a central device.”
The eBlocker Pro is device independent. It connects via Ethernet to your home network and protects any device from unauthorized data as long as the device is connected to the home network.
It is also customizable, giving users options to share certain data points.
The eBlocker company sold some 700 devices after a successful Indiegogo campaign last year. The eBlocker Pro is currently on Kickstarter, where it has exceeded funding goals, for around $140, which is 35 percent off of what it will eventually retail for. If all goes well with production, the eBlocker Pro should ship by June.
Online profiles are not used just to target personalized ads, Bennefeld said. The profiles can lead to price discrimination and credit scores that could rise or fall based on your web behavior.
Bennefeld said travel websites that offer airfare and hotel discounts may set prices based on device.
“If you are surfing from an iPad or an Android device you might be getting a different price,” Bennefeld said. “The iPad user is perceiving as having different buying power so the results could be tilted higher. That same hotel room may be $25 cheaper (from an Android).
Also, fight those hypochondriac tendencies that invite you to Google search medical sites for your various aches and pains. That rare cancer you read about online? An insurance company could hold your search history against you as it sets a rate, even if the doctor gives you a clean bill of health.