June 30, 2012, 7:45 AM — Apple's patent for techniques that would make data profiling more difficult foreshadows a possible future in which at least one big business sides with consumers and fights against the increasingly bothersome and widespread practice.
It's a beautiful thought for Internet, computer and mobile users worried about the troublesome profiling of consumer data that's so rampant.
[ FREE DOWNLOAD: The Apple security survival guide ]
Cult of Mac's Mike Elgan spotted the patent called "Techniques to pollute electronic profiling," which would presumably allow for systematic lying to data-harvesting servers.
"So let's say you're in California, and you use your Mac to visit Amazon and use your VISA card to buy the book Animal Farm by George Orwell," Elgan wrote. "Apple's patent implies that these data harvesters would be lied to -- for example, told that you're in Kansas on a Linux PC using your AMEX (with a fake number) to buy the book 'Cooking with Pooh.'"
He points out the disturbing fact that the future is one in which it could be impossible to keep your personal data from being harvested.
In February, Charles Duhigg wrote a fascinating article for The New York Times titled "How Companies Learn Your Secrets" that singled out Target and its ability to determine if a woman is most likely pregnant.
It's able to do this because for decades the company has been keeping tabs on what customers buy and then adds to customer profiles demographic information such as age, marital status, number of children, what neighborhoods they live in, their estimated salaries, what credit cards they use and what web sites they frequent.
Of course, this kind of customer profiling is done all the time by almost every major retailer, as well as online companies such as Facebook and Google that profit by serving you targeted ads based on the personal data or Internet usage data they have on you.
Strictly speaking, targeted ads can be useful; if you've got to put up with it, it might as well be for something you might actually buy.
But customer and user profiling by big business can get creepy.
If you've ever looked yourself up on Spokeo you may know how troublesome it can be to see things like your name, address, family members, age, wealth level, occupation, astrological sign, house value, hobbies, interests and ethnicity made public for the world to see.
The Federal Trade Commission recently announced it fined the company $800,000 for selling information about people to employers without making sure the data was accurate as well as for not notifying people if an employer decided not to hire them based on what it learned from Spokeo.
Spokeo told Forbes it will no longer sell information for the purpose of screening candidates for employment, but one has to wonder how many people's careers have been affected because of Spokeo's profiles.
For Apple's part, it is one company that manages to largely keep itself out of the privacy skirmishes that seem to increasingly flare up between consumers, big business and the government. This patent it's involved with could be good news for consumers.