Rise of the Private Surveillance State

TIME

Think you get to surf the internet for free these days? Think again. There’s a good chance you’re paying for the privilege with a little piece of your privacy, according to a Federal Trade Commission report released Tuesday. The ads you see on web pages are often automatically chosen to reflect your interests, based on collected bits and pieces of information you have made public as you go about your life online, and off.

And who’s doing the collecting? Data brokers, the largely unregulated middlemen in the privacy-for-personalization transaction at the heart of the digital economy. The FTC’s report, based on the responses of nine major data brokers to orders issued to them by the commission in 2012, shows just how far those companies have gone in amassing a huge information mosaic of Americans’ lives.

Of the nine data brokers, one data broker’s database has information on 1.4 billion consumer…

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