Home Your Income, Home Ownership & Parenthood Status Now Available as an API

Your Income, Home Ownership & Parenthood Status Now Available as an API

Personal information aggregation service Rapleaf announced to its developers today that it now offers “lifestyle” information like home ownership status, occupation and income corresponding with any email or postal address in its database.

The news is sure to drive critics of the company nuts, but Rapleaf’s new Personalization API could prove wildly useful to developers of software and services both benevolent and malign. The most disruptive thing about the API (Application Programming Interface, a means of offering easy programatic access) is how accessible it makes information that marketers have paid a lot of money for in the past.

In an email to Rapleaf developers today, the company wrote:

Developers can now get access to Rapleaf’s new Personalization API. You can query the API with an email or postal address and get access to information on a person like:

  • Demographics (like age, gender, location, more)
  • Lifestyle (income, presence of children, occupation, home ownership, more)
  • Social (like influencer score, more)
  • Interests (like pets, sports, smart phone users, luxury items, music, movies, more)

The responses are now in JSON and configurable based on what your application needs.

It’s unclear what the influencer score is based on.

What if it Was Easy?

“Anyone can go to infousa.com and download that data, for a hefty fee,” says independent data consultant Pete Warden, “but by offering the same information through a simple API, Rapleaf makes it both far easier to use (or exploit if you prefer) and much more visible to the end users.”

Related: Publicizing Personal Data, When is it OK?

Is it justifiable in cases of the “greater good?”

“I’ve opposed that line of reasoning when used to justify reneging on an explicit privacy promise. But when it comes to a promise that was never actually made but merely intuitively understood (or mis-understood) by users, I think the question is different, and my stance is softer. Privacy needs to be weighed against the benefit to society from ‘publicizing’ data — disseminating, aggregating and analyzing it.”

-Arvind Narayanan, Is Making Public Data “More Public” a Privacy Violation?

Rapleaf has long offered other personal information like links to the social network profiles associated with email adresses. Innovative startups like Rapportive and Gist use Rapleaf data and demonstrate that there are incredibly positive things that can be built on top of this data. (You should go try both of those apps if you haven’t yet.)

Rapportive places information about email senders in the sidebar of your email, like their photo and social network profile links. Company CEO Rahul Vohra’s response to my inquiry about putting this new Rapleaf info in the email sidebars of his users? “Hell no.” I asked (in most part) as a joke, but Vohra said that he could imagine such a feature being offered to premium customers someday.

For now the data is most useful to direct marketers, he said. Software that shows you the income level of anyone who sends you an email? “The world isn’t ready, that’s for sure,” Vohra said. “I imagine most people regard that as sensitive, but would be OK with it behind a pay barrier. Part of what makes Rapportive awesome is that it’s free for end-users; I wonder how people would react if a startup found out how to make this data free.”

Probably not well – but it would be interesting, wouldn’t it?

Opt-out vs. Opt-in

Related: Location Data Privacy and the Risks of Legislation

(Related because data is an emerging platform.)

“Location data is just now being used to provide a growing number of critical governmental, societal and business services. The number and value of these services are increasing daily. Attempting to regulate the collection of location data without a full understanding of the technology and its vast potential could have a number of unintended consequences, including limiting the development of a number of critical governmental services. Such opportunity costs should be fully understood and explored before regulating location from a privacy standpoint. In addition, any such legislation should be narrowly tailored so as not to inhibit further growth of this important technology.”

-Kevin Pomfret, Executive Director of the Centre for Spatial Law and Policy

Chris Dixon, co-founder of personalization service Hunch.com, takes a very different approach.

“I believe the (desktop & mobile) web will become increasingly personalized,” he told us,

“and it will either be done in an opt-out way – through cookies and behind-the-scenes data trading that is out of the users’ control – or it will be done in a way that is fully opt-in and users have full control of their personal information. Hunch is a completely premised on the opt-in, give-users-control approach. It takes longer for our approach to get to critical mass but we think will be worth the wait. All of our deals are and will be opt in.

Rapleaf is opt-out, making available data harvested from all around the Web. (For Rapleaf’s side of the story about its practices, see the company’s blog.)

This could be an incredible platform for innovation – or it could be a controversial way for marketers to make a quick grab of more information about you than you wish they had. They always had it, but now it’s a lot cheaper and easier to get. That should mean that new innovators should be able to build incredible things we’ll like – if the market has enough imagination to do more than just go for the crass money grab of direct marketing. Right now there are too few good examples of positive developments of beneficial software, social self-awareness, injustices rooted-out and opportunities discovered thanks to programmatically available personal information. That may or may not change in time.

Rapleaf was reported last month to have raised $15 million more in venture capital.

See Also: Meet the Firehose Seven Thousand Times Bigger Than Twitter’s – Your Mobile Phone’s Passive Signals

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