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 — 4c812db292272995e5416a323e79bd37 — 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.