I have a shadow. There's the Dan Cooper writing these words right now, standing at his desk in an attic in Norwich, England. There is also the Dan Cooper who has the same name and address but who only exists inside a computer sitting on a shelf. I had never heard of this man until a couple of months ago, but now I am intimately familiar with who he is, his contradictions and the terrible truth he may reflect upon me.
In the wake of Europe's new privacy laws, I polled numerous companies to learn what they knew about me. One of them was Acxiom, a principally American marketing-data agency that collects data on individuals across the globe. Data that it has bought, or gathered, is algorithmically mashed together with public records and drained through a series of statistical models. The eventual aim of this effort is to create a series of conclusions about user behavior that can be used to create increasingly targeted advertising.
Acxiom sent me a 24-page file that covered everything it had about me. That information has been sold to a number of "respected brands," including major names like Ford Motor Company, British Telecom and (British retailer) Tesco. The file was also passed on to companies that already know me pretty damn well: Facebook, eBay, Twitter and PayPal.
I'm sure that at some point in the past, I've unwittingly ticked "agree" on some box and given my consent for my data to be collected. And these companies are likely to have tried to build a complete profile of my health, economic status and purchasing profile. It's quite possible that the data has been used to send me specific offers, suggest products I should buy and even dangle discounts in front of my face.
That's a real problem, because the data they store on me is total bollocks.
How big tech manages your personal information