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Infographic of the Day: How Rapleaf Spies On Your Online Habits

Rapleaf describes its services innocently enough — standard boilerplate about “personalized experiences” and “help[ing] Fortune 2000 companies gain insight into their customers.” But The Wall Street Journal took a closer look at the San Francisco-based company and came up with this doozy of an infographic, which shows how Rapleaf sucks up hundreds of personal datapoints about web consumers and feeds it to a network of advertisers–often linking the data to consumers’ real names in the process.

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To collect the data, Rapleaf uses browser cookies–tiny digital homing devices that record your activity as you surf the web. Just about every company on the web uses cookies in some way, and like many others, Rapleaf slots users into categories based on their top surfing habits over time. But when it connects those categories–like your income, political interests, or purchasing tastes–to your email address and real name before selling the whole dossier to a cadre of invisible advertising networks, that’s when it all starts to sound a bit scary. Here are some of the numerical codes that Rapleaf uses to slice and dice users’ personal information, according to the Journal:

Rapleaf claims not to connect users’ real names to the data it collects, but there it is in black and white html code. Which makes this infographic the visual equivalent of a smoking gun — it’s no accident that some of the categories were expunged once the Wall Street Journal started to dig around.