Corporate competition to accumulate information about consumers is intensifying even as concerns about government surveillance grow, pushing down the market price for intimate personal details to fractions of a cent.
Over recent years, the surveillance of consumers has developed into a multibillion-dollar industry conducted by largely unregulated companies that obtain information by scouring web searches, social networks, purchase histories and public records, among other sources.
The resulting dossiers include thousands of details about individuals, including personal ailments, credit scores and even due dates for pregnant women. Companies feed the details into algorithms to determine how to predict and influence consumer behavior.
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Basic age, gender and location information sells for as little as $0.0005 per person, or $0.50 per thousand people, according to price details seen by the Financial Times. Information about people believed to be "influential" within their social networks sells for $0.00075, or $0.75 per thousand people. Slightly more valuable are income details and shopping histories, which both sell for $0.001.
According to industry sources, most people's profile information sells for less than a dollar in total. "You're not worth much," said Dave Morgan, founder of one of the first companies to use web surfing data to target online ads.
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As basic information on consumers becomes ubiquitous, data brokers are tracking down even more details. For $0.26 per person, LeadsPlease.com sells the names and mailing addresses of people suffering from ailments such as cancer, diabetes and clinical depression. The information includes specific medications including cancer treatment drug Methotrexate and Paxil, the antidepressant, according to price details viewed by the FT.