On the Web’s Cutting Edge, Anonymity Is in Name Only

You may not know a company called [x+1] Inc., but it may well know a lot about you.

A single click on the Web site [x+1] correctly identified Carrie Isaac as a young Colorado Springs parent who lives on about $50,000 a year, shops at Walmart (NYSE: WMT), and rents kids’ videos. The Web site deduced that Nashville architect Paul Boulifard is childless, likes to travel, and buys used cars. And [x+1] determined that Thomas Burney, a Colorado building contractor, is a skier with a college degree and good credit.

The company didn’t get every detail correct. But its ability to make snap assessments of individuals is accurate enough that Capital One Financial Corp. uses [x+1]’s calculations to instantly decide which credit cards to show first-time visitors to its Web site.

In short, Web sites are gaining the ability to decide whether you’d be a good customer before you even tell them a single thing about yourself.

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