Three hours after I gave my name and e-mail address to Michael Fertik, the CEO of Reputation.com, he called me back and read my Social Security number to me. "We had it a couple of hours ago," he said. "I was just too busy to call."
In the past few months, I have been told many more-interesting facts about myself than my Social Security number. I've gathered a bit of the vast amount of data that's being collected both online and off by companies in stealth — taken from the websites I look at, the stuff I buy, my Facebook photos, my warranty cards, my customer-reward cards, the songs I listen to online, surveys I was guilted into filling out and magazines I subscribe to.
Google's Ads Preferences believes I'm a guy interested in politics, Asian food, perfume, celebrity gossip, animated movies and crime but who doesn't care about "books & literature" or "people & society." (So not true.) Yahoo! has me down as a 36-to-45-year-old male who uses a Mac computer and likes hockey, rap, rock, parenting, recipes, clothes and beauty products; it also thinks I live in New York, even though I moved to Los Angeles more than six years ago. Alliance Data, an enormous data-marketing firm in Texas, knows that I'm a 39-year-old college-educated Jewish male who takes in at least $125,000 a year, makes most of his purchases online and spends an average of only $25 per item. Specifically, it knows that on Jan. 24, 2004, I spent $46 on "low-ticket gifts and merchandise" and that on Oct. 10, 2010, I spent $180 on intimate apparel. It knows about more than 100 purchases in between. Alliance also knows I owe $854,000 on a house built in 1939 that — get this — it thinks has stucco walls. They're mostly wood siding with a little stucco on the bottom! Idiots.