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Shadow profile

Shadow profile definition

A shadow profile is a set of data collected about someone without their explicit consent, usually from various online sources. This includes data like what websites they visit, how they use social media, and information others share about them. Shadow profiles are used to improve ad targeting, enhance user experience, or for other analytical purposes.

See also: privacy policy, tracking pixel, zombie cookies

Shadow profile uses

  • Targeted advertising. Companies use these profiles to show people ads that closely match their interests, increasing the chances of sales.
  • Personalization of services. Online platforms use this data to tailor user experiences, such as recommending friends, content, or products.
  • Market research. Companies analyze these profiles to understand what people like and how they behave.
  • Risk assessment. Sometimes, financial or security services use this data to assess someone's risk level.

History of shadow profiles

  • 1990s – early 2000s: In the early stages of the internet, user data collection was narrow and straightforward. Websites tracked basic info like visit counts, and user profiles were based on the data knowingly provided by the users.
  • Mid-2000s: Social media platforms, like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, brought in a significant shift. They encouraged people to share vast amounts of personal info, laying the groundwork for more detailed user profiles.
  • Late 2000s: Advances in technology made it easier for companies to gather and analyze more diverse data, like where people go and what they do online.
  • Early 2010s: The term “shadow profile” started gaining traction in the early 2010s. People started to notice and talk about how companies, especially Facebook, were collecting lots of data, not only from users but also from their friends.
  • Late-2010s to present: After major scandals like Facebook-Cambridge Analytica, people became more aware of these practices. New laws like GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California were introduced to help internet users have more control over their data.