For all the concern and uproar over online privacy, marketers and data companies have always known much more about consumers’ offline lives — but recently, some of these companies have started connecting this mountain of information to consumers’ browsers. And the result is a sea change in the way consumers encounter the web, reports the New York Times. Not only will people see customized advertising; they’ll see versions of web sites that are different from what other consumers see and even receive different discount offers while shopping–all based on information from their offline history. The technology that makes this connection possible is nothing new–it is a tiny piece of code called a cookie that is placed on a hard drive. But the information it holds is. And it is all done invisibly. Advertisers and marketers say this specificity is useful, taking out the guesswork involved in online-only profiling, and showing products to the people most likely to be interested. But consumer advocates say such unseen tracking is troubling. On the old internet, nobody knew you were a dog. On the new targeted internet, they now know what kind of dog you are, your favorite leash color, the last time you had fleas, and the date you were neutered…

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