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Hidden inside Ashley Hayes-Beaty's computer, a tiny file helps gather personal details about her, all to be put up for sale for a tenth of a penny.


The file consists of a single code that secretly identifies her as a 26-year-old female in Nashville, Tenn.


The code knows that her favorite movies include "The Princess Bride," "50 First Dates" and "10 Things I Hate About You." It knows she enjoys the "Sex and the City" series. It knows she browses entertainment news and likes to take quizzes.


"Well, I like to think I have some mystery left to me, but apparently not!" Ms. Hayes-Beaty said when told what that snippet of code reveals about her. "The profile is eerily correct."


Ms. Hayes-Beaty is being monitored by Lotame Solutions Inc., a New York company that uses sophisticated software called a "beacon" to capture what people are typing on a website—their comments on movies, say, or their interest in parenting and pregnancy.


Lotame packages that data into profiles about individuals, without determining a person's name, and sells the profiles to companies seeking customers.


Ms. Hayes-Beaty's tastes can be sold wholesale (a batch of movie lovers is $1 per thousand) or customized (26-year-old Southern fans of "50 First Dates").


"We can segment it all the way down to one person," says Eric Porres, Lotame's chief marketing officer.


Ashley Hayes-Beaty's taste in film is tracked by a New York firm—and offered for sale for a tenth of a cent. One of the fastest-growing businesses on the Internet, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found, is the business of spying on Internet users.


(Reprinted from the Wall Street Journal, July 2010.)


Is this spying or is this market research? It is market research if the person knows you are doing it. It is spying if the person doesn’t know.


In any case, you should be investigating this technology and see if this tool can be integrated into your marketing plans.

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