Sunday, February 03, 2008

I can has privacy?

“How much control should an individual have over their personal information?,” Phillips muses as he shows me around. “I think individuals should have more control than they do, significantly more control. Individuals ultimately should be required to provide their explicit consent for the use of that information."

You would think these would be the words of a privacy advocate. You would be wrong. The man behind Aristotle Inc, John Aristotle Phillips, values his own privacy, but buys and sells every little piece of data about you that he can get.

His metier is marrying voter registration lists to everything else and selling that information to politicians for microtargeting voters.

“What we do is help a campaign run more and more like an effective business,” Phillips says as he types on his laptop, bringing up on a large projection screen the profile of an actual voter in Atlanta, whom we’ll call John Smith.

Phillips hits a button and up pops Smith’s basic information—address, phone number, etc. A click of the mouse brings more personal information—his photograph, his age and occupation, the names of his adult family members, his party affiliation and approximate income. Another click summons the exact amounts of political donations he has made. Phillips clicks once more, and a kind of molecular model appears on-screen, showing every political donor and potentially influential person Smith is linked to, in Atlanta and beyond, with dozens of interlocking nodes. Each node leads to the profile of another voter, about whom Aristotle knows just as much or more.

And when he's not selling your data to politicians, he's selling it to anybody who's got a credit card.

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