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RapLeaf Selling Your Identity to Advertisers, But You Can Opt Out

RapLeaf logoYou may not know a lot about RapLeaf, but RapLeaf probably knows a lot about you. That's because RapLeaf is an online tracking company, and, like most other Internet profilers, it collects data on what individual consumers do online. According to a recent investigation from the Wall Street Journal, though, RapLeaf also collects and distributes the kind of highly personal information that other trackers tend to ignore, such as user names, e-mail addresses and other sensitive details.

Here's how it works: whenever a user logs into a certain site, that site automatically sends the user's identifying information to RapLeaf. RapLeaf then locates the user in its database of e-mail addresses (which it collects from social networks), and plants a cookie on the surfer's computer to track his or her behavior. Then, it sells that information to its affiliated advertising companies.

The company acknowledges that it collects users' names, but maintains that it never reveals them to third-party companies. The Journal, however, discovered that, in some instances, the San Francisco-based startup revealed identifying details -- including MySpace and Facebook IDs -- to various companies. (RapLeaf says the disclosure was inadvertent, and that the practice has since been discontinued.) The company has also supplied demographic information to ten political campaigns, for Republicans and Democrats alike.

Even more worrisome, perhaps, is the breadth of RapLeaf's knowledge. According to the Journal, the site divides its database into some 400 categories, which include household income range, age range, political leaning, and the genders and ages of children in the household. RapLeaf also documents a user's interest in topics like religion, the Bible, gambling, tobacco and adult entertainment. (Check out Fast Company's infographic for a breakdown of what RapLeaf collects, and how it does so.)

RapLeaf's privacy policy, meanwhile, plainly states that the site won't "collect or work with sensitive data on children, health or medical conditions, sexual preferences, financial account information or religious beliefs." When the Journal pointed out the obvious contradiction between its words and its actions, RapLeaf promptly removed some segments of its policy, but insisted that many of its demographic categories are "used widely by the direct-marketing industry today."

Fortunately, though, there is a way to avoid RapLeaf's radar. As the Journal's Jennifer Valentino-DeVries explains, users can easily opt-out of the tracking service by submitting their e-mail address via the RapLeaf website. Within 48 hours, RapLeaf will remove all information pertaining to the submitted e-mail from the data it normally sends to third-party companies, and, within several weeks, all of the relevant personal information will be deleted from RapLeaf's database. Before jumping ship, though, you might first want to check out this RapLeaf page, where you can find exactly how much the company knows about you, and decide whether or not it knows a little too much.

Tags: email, facebook, myspace, opt out, OptOut, personal information, PersonalInformation, politics, privacy, rapleaf, religion, SocialNetworking, top, wall street journal, WallStreetJournal