Feeling beach-bummed that your body isn’t “bikini-ready” for Memorial Day? Don’t sweat it.
Everyone from the Kardashians to the rebooted “Baywatch” cast is rocking a one-piece swimsuit this year.
Retail data company EDITED reports that the number of bikini styles offered online has dropped 9%, while one-piece models have spiked 20%.
And single-piece swimsuits – sometimes called “monokinis” – are selling out three times faster than they did at this time last year, with figure-flattering and tummy-controlling designs moving the fastest, followed by traditional, round-neck suits.
“The one-piece has made an explosive comeback this year. It’s not surprising due to current trends and our quest for comfort – and retailers are capitalizing on this growth with a bevy of flattering and daring styles for 2017,” Emily Bezzand, head analyst at EDITED, told Moneyish.
Athleta’s Wave Break Tie One Piece suit, $108.
That includes activewear brand Athleta, which features swim leggings for surfers, stand-up paddle boarders, or anyone looking for a little coverage.
“[A woman] wants something that she can wear confidently, without having to constantly adjust,” Athleta’s Ariel Bishop (swim design) and Charlotte Lord (swim merchandising) told Moneyish. “She wants to be able to dive into a pool, or bend down and play with her kid, without the discomfort of her suit getting in the way.”
ASOS and Topshop one-pieces are also popular, although any swim line worth its saltwater has at least one racy monokini on the rack. Yup, one-piece suits have shed their dowdy rep thanks to sexy details like high-cut legs, plunging necklines and low backs, or strategic cut-outs along the torso and sides – so you can flaunt the body parts you love, while covering up the ones you don’t.
Eloquii’s best-selling swimsuits include this $119.90 Criss Cross One-Piece. (Eloquii)
This is the first year that chic plus-size site Eloquii is offering swimwear, but the brand told Moneyish it has already noticed one-pieces are selling better than their itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny counterparts. Rebel Wilson even sported their $120 Off The Shoulder One Piece recently while on vacation in Mexico. So Eloquii plans to roll out more single-piece styles next summer.
Eloquii’s best-selling one-piece suits include this $119.90 Color Blocked One-Piece. (Eloquii)
“I have a feeling that if you looked at the plus market a couple of years ago when the first ‘fatkini’ (as it was called) was introduced, there was probably a rise in bikini sales as the stigma around plus-size women in bikinis was shattered,” said Jodi Arnold, Creative Director & VP of Design at Eloquii. “But now I think the trend in fashion in general is a little more retro in feel, and therefore the one-piece suit seems to be more popular.”
Established brands ‘are starting to recognize that consumers come in all shades, not just pale pink’
The email sounded too good to be true: an unsolicited offer to help dress Beyoncé and her dancers for the megastar’s Formation World Tour. But after checking it out with friends in show business, Londoner Ade Hassan confirmed the solicitation was legitimate. Soon the details came.
“Brilliant. Here are [Beyonce’s] sizes and her colors,” the emailer wrote. Hassan set to work filling a high-prestige order for her small business. Nubian Skin provided T-shirt bras, thongs and briefs for the concert tour, which became one of the biggest grossing tours of 2016.
“We were a little bit gobsmacked,” Hassan said of the order.
Launched in October 2014, Nubian Skin sells what’s been generally difficult to find in the main-line marketplace: hosiery and lingerie matching darker skin tones.
Along with Beyoncé’s tour, Nubian Skin garments have been seen in the Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures,” the story of three black women who worked as mathematicians at NASA, and on the Fox TV show “Empire.” They can be found at Main Street retailers and online. Colors called cafe au lait, caramel, cinnamon and berry speak to the range of skin tones among the women to whom Hassan caters.
“One of my recurring frustrations had been never being able to find tights that were the right color or just having a nude bra that I could wear under a white blouse — any blouse, really,” Hassan said during an interview from her office in the British capital.
Nubian Skin is among a select number of companies that have entered the intimate-apparel landscape over the past five years, said Sarah Clarke, editor of Lingerie Insight, a British magazine and website that focuses on industry news and trends.
“Their aim is to change the meaning of the word ‘nude,’ which used to be synonymous with lighter skin shades,” said Clarke in emailed comments. “I believe the trend has been driven by the world’s population becoming more diverse, which has triggered a strong consumer demand for fashion and beauty products for darker skin tones.”
Selling what used to be referred to as “unmentionables” is big business. In the U.S., lingerie stores pulled in $7.5 billion in revenue over the five years leading up to 2016, according to research firm IBISWorld. Sales increased at an annualized rate of 1.9% over that period, in part as a rise in disposable income created a market for higher-end, higher-priced lingerie.
The industry’s growth has also been driven by an increase in product offerings to appeal to broader and underserved markets, including women 45 and older and plus-size women, IBISWorld said in a research published in October.
“The rise of social media has given consumers a voice, allowing them to express what’s missing in their lingerie wardrobes, and brands have responded to this audience,” Clarke said. Established brands “are starting to recognize that consumers come in all shades, not just pale pink,” she said.
The company Björn Borg, which bears the name of the Swedish tennis legend, last year launched its Skin Collection, with underwear in six skin tones. An 84% majority of the world’s population has a skin tone other than the heretofore standard “nude” color, it said in a statement. Luxury shoe brand Christian Louboutin in 2013 introduced its Nudes Collection of beige to dark-brown shoes.
“The shoes disappear like magic and become a fluid extension of the woman’s legs, as in a sketch, elongating the silhouette,” Louboutin said at the time.
This year, Hassan followed in those Louboutin footsteps. She’s put a Nubian Skin line of brown-hued pumps and flats online.
In 2011, Hassan was working as a consultant and not enjoying it, so she decided to start her own business. “The idea popped into my head, and I remember sending a text to my friend saying, ‘I figured out what I want to do when I grow up.’ ”
Just six years after the genesis of the idea, Nubian Skin is stocked by upscale department-store chain Nordstrom Inc. JWN, +1.60% , online fashion vendor Asos ASC, +0.60% and legednary British department store House of Fraser. “A lot of times, if you haven’t been around for three [fashion] seasons, people won’t even look at you,” Hassan, 32, said. “I think it’s a testament to the fact that we were doing something so innovative and that many women have been waiting for.”
She said some retail-industry buyers are a bit conservative, while for others Nubian Skin immediately clicked. “Yes, our customers need that,” members of the latter group might say. “That makes complete sense.”
While Hassan had a clear idea of what she wanted to sell, she had hurdles to overcome.
“[I had] a huge task of figuring out the colors because they didn’t exist in the market,” she said, adding that she frequented makeup counters in search of the right tones to offer.
Hassan started working actively on building Nubian Skin in late spring of 2013, returning to the finance industry to save up enough money to launch the business.
She was confident in her idea, but she still had to convince others. “I was reaching out to manufacturers, and nobody came back to me,” she said. “I realized pretty quickly that, not having any inroads with that industry, I needed expert advice.”
One of her most important moves in building the business was finding a consultant who had worked in the industry for decades. After an online search, she signed a nondisclosure agreement with a consultant and outlined her pitch.
“I hear a lot of ideas. This one has legs,” Hassan recalled being told by the consultant, who in turn directed Hassan to trade shows where she could meet manufacturers.
She and her eventual manufacturer went back and forth numerous times — tweaking the samples, adding red or blue here, going more yellow there — to create the colors separately for the lingerie and the tights. “That literally ended up with me dying tights in pots of tea to say, ‘This is the exact color I want.’ ”
She eventually reached a point where she could hire a photographer and models and shoot a campaign. She uploaded it to Instagram, where buzz about her line began to build.
In the roughly 18 months after her huddle with the consultant, said Hassan, she made multiple trips to China to visit the manufacturer and ultimately got the line launched. Production has since expanded, with her Moroccan Nights collection being made in that North African country and hosiery being manufactured in Italy and Portugal.
Hassan is also planning this year to launch bras with larger cup sizes, up to a U.K. Size G. That’s in step with what’s been happening in the U.K., with the average British bra size increasing to a 36DD cup from a 34B cup over the last 60 years, according to a report from lingerie company Bluebella.
Among the lessons learned in shepherding Nubian Skin to this stage of its development, Hassan said she’d made an early misstep in hiring other people to do some of the work she should have done.
“Watching money is incredibly important. We were managing all these orders, and we thought, ‘We’ll outsource that.’ And it cost us an absolute fortune,” she said. “We’d negotiated based on a certain assumption, and we were smashing those assumptions.” Now, she said, “we ship U.S. orders based out of a warehouse in the U.S., and for everywhere else we pack ourselves,” which saves thousands of dollars.
“A lot of times, you can underestimate what you can do, and in the long run you can save a lot of money … if you try and do it [yourselves] first and try not to throw money at the problem.”
Seeing Beyoncé sport the Nubian Skin line in front of millions of adoring fans was a major thrill for Hassan. Now, she’s aiming for another star turn: a huge display at a retail store.
She wants women of color to be able to walk into a department store and see Nubian Skin products and realize that finding their own personal “nude” has become a nonissue. “I would love for it to be a household name. That’s when I would say, ‘Wow, we’ve made it.’ ”
The first Lamborghini Centenario in the United States has been delivered to its owner in Newport Beach, California, and it has been personalized with Blu Nethuns exterior accents adorning its carbon fiber body.
Inside, there’s black leather and Alcantara upholstery accented by blue stitching and embroidery, as well as a blue center console. Despite the car being extremely exclusive, buyers are able to customize their Centenario with any color scheme via Lamborghini’s bespoke Ad Personam division.
Powering the Centenario is a 6.5-liter V-12 rated at 759 hp and 508 lb-ft of torque, and it’s paired exclusively to a seven-speed Independent Shifting Rod transmission. Like the Aventador SV that it’s closely based on, the Centenario puts its power down through all four wheels and has a top speed of 217 mph. Lamborghini says that the Centenario will be able to hit 0-62 mph in 2.8 seconds and weighs 3,351 pounds thanks to its carbon fiber body. The limited edition car went into production to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of founder Ferruccio Lamborghini’s birth.
In total, 20 coupes and 20 roadsters will be offered, and all have been spoken for. Pricing starts at $1.9 million before taxes for the Centenario coupe and north of $2 million for the Centenario roadster.
Deliveries of U.S.-spec Centenarios will continue throughout the year.
The nickname given to the insects that spread Chagas disease is somewhat bittersweet: kissing bugs.
Their name stems from the fact that they like biting humans around their lips and faces as they sleep, after which they defecate into the wound with feces that harbor an infectious parasite, Trypanasoma cruzi.
The parasite then enters the bloodstream and causes Chagas disease, also known as trypanosomiasis.
Though the disease is generally considered to be mild or even asymptomatic among most, a new study has found that deaths fueled by the infection are much more common than we know — and are going unrecognized.
“In every age category, people who had Chagas died more than people who didn’t have Chagas,” said Dr. Ligia Capuani, an infectious disease researcher at Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Sao Paulo, in Brazil, who led the research.
“So if you’re infected early in life, you should be treated,” she said.
Diagnosis is a challenge in many parts of Central and South America, where the disease is most prevalent, with people often finding out that they are infected only when they donate blood, explained Capuani.
The kissing bugs behind the disease have also been reported in 25 US states, with the largest concentration in the South.
Hiding in blood
The research team analyzed data from more than 8,500 people who donated blood between 1996 and 2000 and compared mortality among people who tested positive and negative for infection with T. cruzi. Subjects were followed for up to 14 years.
“People with Chagas had a two to three times higher risk of dying.” said Dr. Ester Cerdeira Sabino, who co-led the study team at the Brazilian University.
The leading causes of death among those testing positive related to heart diseases, the most common symptom of an infection. In the positive group, “there was 17 times the risk of cardio disease,” Sabino said.
More than 6 million people are estimated to be infected globally, according to the World Health Organization, with up to 30% of people chronically infected developing heart issues and 10% developing digestive or neurological symptoms.
The CDC estimates that there are 300,000 cases of Chagas in the United States, with most of those contracted in other countries.
Some patients experience acute, sudden symptoms during the first two months of infection, when parasite numbers in the blood are at their peak, including fever, fatigue, rash, diarrhea and occasionally swollen eyelids. But whether acute or chronic, the majority of people remain symptom-free.
Sabino and Capuani believe their findings draw attention to a greater impact on health, due to infection.
“What the parasite does to the body takes a long time; (it) slowly goes into the heart and destroys it,” Sabino said. “We have measured accurately the risk of death, (as) a lot of mortality data doesn’t account for Chagas.”
In the study, 40% of people whose blood tested positive for Chagas disease did not have that infection stated on their death certificate, even when deaths were heart-related.
”It’s still there and causing death’
Two antiparasitic drugs are available to treat infection, benznidazole and nifurtimox, both of which are almost 100% effective if given soon after infection, according to the WHO. But it’s effectiveness fades the longer someone is infected. Adverse effects also occur in up to 40% of patients, and treatment can take up to two months.
There is no vaccine against the disease. The best means of prevention is controlling the triatomine — kissing — bugs that spread it, either by use of insecticides or by improving homes, as the bugs reside in the walls or roof cracks of poorly constructed homes.
But another means of prevention is treating people early, so they cannot spread the parasite to others, either by the bugs biting them or through blood donations and transfusions.
“Most people who get infected carry on with their lives … unaware they were bitten,” Sabino said. “A lot of mortality data doesn’t account for Chagas, so you underestimate the effect of the disease.”
Along with Capuani, she believes that more attention needs to be given to the burden of infection.
“It’s still there and causing death,” she said.
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“The general assumption is that the non-symptomatic form of Chagas disease is associated with negligible morbidity/mortality for the patients,” said Dr. Eric Dumonteil, a Chagas disease researcher at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in the US. This study is “very interesting (and) has important implications for patient care and treatment.”
But Dumonteil added that the design of this study, looking at past data, makes it difficult to focus in on and compare the mortality rate for non-symptomatic people testing positive for Chagas infection to symptomatic people. It’s also a correlation that has been seen, not direct causation, as patients were not directly followed up.
Dr. Alvaro Acosta-Serrano, a parasitologist at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the UK, agrees with the research team that more attention needs to paid to the problem of forgotten or unknown infections.
“This increase in mortality (shown by the study) is not that shocking,” he said. “Chagas is often mistaken with flu symptoms and then disappears. It can disappear for years then re-emerge as heart disease.”
He believes more accurate diagnostics are needed to pick up infections in people who carry low levels of the parasite in their blood.
“If we don’t detect it in time, they will continue spreading the disease,” he said.
Think your good looks are what make you attractive? Guess again.
Along with what meets the eye, your voice and body odor are important in determining attractiveness, according to a small review paper published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology on Thursday.
The paper’s authors reviewed 73 studies on attractiveness, published between 1977 and this year, to examine the relative importance of visual, auditory and olfactory cues, said Agata Groyecka, researcher at the University of Wroclaw in Poland, who led the research.
The researchers found that the perception of attractiveness indeed is multimodal, meaning it’s not reliant on just one factor, such as physical appearance, but rather multiple factors, including body odor and voice.
“Some odors are not only rated as more pleasant but also sexier, and therefore, they are likely to make people eager to flirt or date. Similarly, unpleasant odors can be discouraging to engaging in a relationship,” Groyecka said.
As for voice, the researchers wrote in the paper that vocal cues help others make judgments about another person’s sex, age, dominance, cooperativeness, emotional state, physical strength and possibly fertility.
Groyecka’s team further found, however, that while many previous studies have focused on visual factors that influence attractiveness, few have investigated the influence of scent and voice.
“Although the literature about human’s voice and olfaction has grown rapidly in past decades, we were not surprised to find that the biggest share of papers regarding attractiveness focuses on physical appearance,” Groyecka said. “Olfaction and audition are largely neglected in reviews about attractiveness.”
Here’s a look at what we do know about how your odor and voice may influence your attractiveness.
‘The nose knows; the same thing applies to sound’
When it comes to smell, your body odor can influence how attractive you are to someone, especially since it holds clues to your health, said Gordon Gallup, an evolutionary psychologist at the University at Albany in New York, who was not involved in the review paper.
Several diseases, such as diabetes, yellow fever, typhoid fever and the glandular disease scrofula, can be associated with certain scents. A trademark odor that has been tied to diabetes, for instance, has been described as similar to that of rotten apples.
“Olfactory cues are very important. In other words, the nose knows,” Gallup said.
The experiment involved 49 female college students and 44 male students. The men were asked to wear the same T-shirt during a Sunday and Monday night, in order for the fabric to collect their natural body odors.
Then, the women were asked to smell the shirts and rank the odors based on intensity, pleasantness and sexiness. The pleasantness ranking of the men’s body odors was associated with being higher if a woman was not taking birth control and carrying dissimilar genes than the man. The idea is that this genetic diversity might benefit their offspring.
More research is also needed to determine the role voice may play in attractiveness, a role that dates back to our cave-dwelling ancestors, Gallup said.
“When the sun went down, if you interacted with somebody, it would be based largely on the sound of their voice. You wouldn’t be able to see their face,” Gallup said.
“It turns out that the sound of a person’s voice is related to their health, their fertility,” he said. “It’s just an incredibly rich array of information that bears on the viability of that person as a potential mate.”
Previous studies that Gallup has co-authored have suggested that the attractiveness of a woman’s voice can vary based on her menstrual cycle — which was included in the new review paper — and that the attractiveness of any person’s voice can be associated with their body configuration, which was not included in the new paper.
For the study about body configuration, published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior in 2004, Gallup and his colleagues recorded the voices of 149 undergraduate students. The students counted from one to 10 in the recordings. Then they were asked to rate the attractiveness of the voices in others’ recordings.
The researchers found that the higher rating of voice attractiveness for women correlated with having a smaller waist-to-hip ratio, a body type that is commonly found to be more attractive in women.
For men, the researchers found that the higher rating of voice attractiveness correlated with having a larger shoulder-to-hip ratio, or broad shoulders, which are commonly found to be more attractive in men.
A more “attractive” voice tended to be higher in pitch for women and lower for men, among other characteristics, Gallup said.
“I said ‘the nose knows’; the same thing applies to sound,” Gallup said. “If you’re going to agree to a blind date, it might be prudent to have a telephone conversation with that person first, because the voice is a medium that conveys a tremendous amount of basic biological information.”
Out of all of the senses — sight, sound or smell — which has the largest influence on attractiveness? That remains to be debated.
Your looks, voice and smell all work together
On a biological level, Gallup said, olfactory cues might be the most important for attractiveness, but more research is needed.
Laura Germine, a social neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the new review paper, said all of our senses combined work together to help us gauge the attractiveness of others.
Such sensory information can guide you in making a first impression about someone in mere milliseconds, said Germine, who also serves as director of the Laboratory for Brain and Cognitive Health Technology and assistant director of the Institute for Technology in Psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.
However, that first impression can shift with additional factors.
“Many have had the experience of where someone who is very attractive initially rapidly becomes unattractive after interacting with them in five to 10 minutes, because now you’re integrating all of this other social information, and you’ve gone from saying, ‘OK, this is someone that I might want to have a relationship with’ … to someone you really don’t want to have any kind of relationship with,” she said.
Studying how factors, outside of visual cues, play a role in attractiveness can help us not only to understand but to appreciate how all of us are attractive in distinctive ways.
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“You open a magazine and you look at an attractive person. Or you watch TV where attractiveness is exclusively visual, but in the world, it’s not,” Germine said.
“This is where misconceptions about what makes a person attractive potentially become quite damaging and quite far off the mark,” she said. “It’s a very complicated interplay, which is good, because it means we make nuanced decisions.”
A 15-story tower of Ferraris and Lamborghinis in glass boxes has become a quirky landmark in Singapore. And it all started with a visit to Toys R Us.
Struggling with a lack of space at his sports car showroom, Gary Hong was inspired by a vertical display of Matchbox cars while shopping at the toy store with his son.
Hong, 45, has turned his vision into a 148-foot tower housing some of the world’s most expensive cars.
“We decided to build something a bit different to solve the problem,” Hong, general manager at Autobahn Motors, said.
Believed to be the world’s tallest “car vending machine,” Autobahn’s tower displays roughly 60 different vehicles, ranging from newer models such as the Lamborghini Aventador to more collectible cars such as the Ferrari 512M.
The cars arrive at the touch of a button using a mobile app customized by Autobahn, and a video showcasing the customer’s chosen car plays while they wait for it to reach the ground for a viewing, test drive or sale.
The experience isn’t entirely self-service, though. Staff supervise customers when they request a vehicle.
Hong’s creation isn’t a new concept. Car vending machines have sprung up in countries around the world in recent years, including the U.S. and Japan. Aside from their novelty value, they solve dealers’ longstanding problem of how to showcase more cars using a limited amount of land — a big issue in densely populated Singapore.
This vending machine spits out cars
Since it was built in December, visitors have flocked to see the Singapore tower — and not just potential customers. Land developers struggling to find enough space for car parking have also paid frequent visits to the showroom, Hong said.
Autobahn has managed to turn some of that attention into money, too. Sales rose roughly 30% in the first quarter of this year compared with the fourth quarter of 2016, Hong said.
His team is now busy patenting some of the technology, which they plan to sell to businesses looking to solve inventory management problems in China and other countries.
Political campaigns and marketers have found new ways to analyze consumer behavior
How well do you think your Facebook FB, -0.40% account knows you?
As the power of the “like” grows, political campaigns and companies are harnessing it to influence and track the public’s behavior. Last month, Congress repealed laws passed by the Federal Communications Commission on what data internet service providers could collect on users. In a nutshell: Your browser history may now be sold to advertisers without your consent. This will allow for “incredibly intrusive data-mining” by companies online, said Cory Doctorow, activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for online privacy.
Facebook also reportedly knows more about us than most people may realize. The company carried out research on the psychological states of teenagers and found “moments when young people need a confidence boost” that could be used for advertisers, “The Australian” newspaper reported last month. (A Facebook spokesman told MarketWatch at the time that the study was not used to target vulnerable teenagers with advertisements, regretted that this study was carried out and said the contents of this study should not have been shared with a company.)
The influence of the social media giant also came into sharp focus during the polarizing 2016 U.S. presidential election. At that time, analysts suggested the techniques of software and data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, a company that claims to use data to change people’s behavior, played a role in the results, Motherboard reported in January. The extent to which the company influenced voters has been called into question, but the research it’s based on has broader implications.
Fake news stories trended on Facebook’s FB, -0.40% news feed in the run-up to the 2016 election — an issue the company has vowed to fight. In recent weeks, the social network deleted thousands of accounts as it fights fake news and has undertaken a major advertising effort to help users recognize and report fake news when they see it. (Facebook did not respond to requests for comment on the issues raised in this article.)
But even real news stories can have a major effect when they are shared by users or appear as sponsored posts. Michael Fauscette, chief research officer at peer-to-peer business review platform G2 Crowd, said both sides of the political divide used news stories to target Facebook users in different parts of the country — particularly swing states in the south and midwest — during the 2016 election. Democratic voters who were shown content about candidate Hillary Clinton being ahead in the polls, for instance, may have become complacent and less likely to vote.
What your Facebook ‘likes’ say about you
But we share far more than we perhaps intend when we check into establishments, share news stories and ‘like’ products publicly on Facebook, studies shows. After you “like” just 10 Facebook pages, advertisers (or political campaigns) can get to know you as well as a colleague, according to research from Cambridge University in the U.K., and after 70 “likes” as much can be deduced about you as a close friend knows. And after 150 “likes”? You’ve essentially given up as much about yourself as your parents know. (Users, of course, can make their likes private).
Michal Kosinski, a data scientist and psychologist who developed these models, said his 2012 analysis of 58,000 volunteers using Facebook predicted a user’s skin color with 95% accuracy. Developed in part by Kosinski during his fellowship at the Psychometrics Centre of Cambridge University in 2008, this model also predicted sexual orientation with 88% accuracy, and political affiliation with 85% accuracy. He worked with fellow Cambridge University student David Stillwell to create a Facebook quiz that could determine specific and unique psychological traits.
Participants were analyzed through “Big Five” — a well-known system based on five traits developed by two psychologists in the 1980s to categorize personalities. These include extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and whether or not you are open to new experiences. Soon, thousands of Facebook users had taken the quiz, eager to learn their psychological profile, and Kosinski and Stillwell had — almost inadvertently — aggregated the largest existing network of psychometric data paired with Facebook likes.
From the richness of consumer data and behavior accessible on public profiles on Facebook, they could make predictions more comprehensively and efficiently than any survey before. In the past, to learn about someone’s personality, a quiz might ask them “Are you extroverted?” Now, online behavior monitored by Facebook answers the question better than they themselves can — if they frequently RSVP to events or interact with others on comment threads, for example, they’re more likely to be more social.
“When your digital footprints are being looked at — a lot of which are publicly available and you have little control over — the same accurate psychological profiling can be conducted without your consent, without your knowledge and completely behind your back without your control,” Kosinski told MarketWatch. Advertisers once thought consumers would become desensitized to this lack of privacy, but studies show the opposite appears to be happening: There is a growing desire to be allowed to “opt out” of more invasive targeting. In 2012, 68% of those surveyed by Pew Research Center viewed targeted ads negatively and 59% have noticed this kind of targeting.
Our ‘digital footprint’ can help us too
Despite the recent controversies involving “fake news” and how people may be targeted by marketers and political campaigns, Vesselin Popov, business development director for Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre, said these tools were created to “access a history of behavior that might be more accurate than a survey” — and that isn’t always a bad thing. They have potentially life-saving applications in public health — in campaigns to convince citizens to quit smoking or buckle their seat belts, for example.
And as the number of companies that collect our data grows, so too do the tools to fight them. There are many ad-blockers, anti-tracking tools and VPNs (virtual private network service providers) on the market. And there are tools to help the average consumer track what’s being collected about them. Regina Flores Mir co-founded a website called Data Selfie with fellow New York University graduate student Hang Do Thi Duc, which uses the Cambridge “special sauce” formula to allow Facebook users to see what data is being collected about them.
Kosinski noted that many people don’t mind being targeted with more relevant information — but feel cheated when it’s done without their knowledge. He said it’s very difficult to regulate for several reasons: the borderless nature of the internet and the ephemeral nature of personal data. When a car or money is stolen, the evidence is clear — but data is harder to prove, and once it’s in the hand of a company, nearly impossible to get back or erase. (Most online retailers and social networks make clear in their privacy policies that user data is aggregated and will remain anonymous.)
Doctorow, the activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for privacy, said it is time to put legal framework in place to give back more power — and information — to consumers. In one such case, the EFF could force companies like Facebook to let users breach terms and conditions and set up multiple accounts with fake profiles, allowing them to run their own tests on exactly how news feeds work and companies target them. Americans should be allowed this freedom, he said, “to do what’s best for us rather than what’s best for someone else.”