What are Digital Doppelgängers and How Companies Use Them

Traditionally, a doppelgänger is a person’s look-alike or double. However when applied to data collection and the digital realm, it refers to the descriptive, collected data that companies store about you. Companies create these personas, and there may be hundreds of versions of your digital doppelgänger. They use these to predict your behavior, so they can target you with ads and “optimize” their products. However, their use is finding applications in many different industries.

Privacy International on Digital Doppelgängers and Data Exploitation

“The era where we were in control of the data on our own computers has been replaced with devices containing sensors we cannot control, storing data we cannot access, in operating systems we cannot monitor, in environments where our rights are rendered meaningless.” –Privacy International

The Problem With Data Profiles

The biggest issue with these data profiles that companies keep, is that they are used against the customers. The customer provides the information, and then is negatively impacted by doing so. Here are just a few examples of how your data could be used against you:

  • Employer Discrimination – When applying for a job, an employer may be able to use your data profile to determine that you have similar characteristics or behavior as someone who may not perform well on the job, or is likely to be fired. So you could lose out on a job opportunity, that you otherwise may be a perfectly qualified candidate for.
  • Consumer Discrimination – Imagine you are applying for a loan, or a new insurance policy, and the bank and insurance company have access to data about you. The bank may not approve you for the loan if they see you match the profile of someone who may not pay, even if you’ve never failed to pay in the past. And the insurance company can charge you higher premiums because they discovered that you frequently visit websites about a certain health condition.
  • Criminal Discrimination – If you are on trial for a crime, no matter how minor, your data could be used to convince a jury that you are guilty. Your behavioral data may match that of someone who is more likely to commit a crime, even if you are innocent.

There are endless ways companies and organizations use consumer data. Most recently, we focused on the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, which involved using data to influence election results.

When Data Profiles are Incorrect

Digital doppelgängers, based on collected data, should be accurate. However, because there are so many data points and methods of collection they aren’t always 100% correct. Even if the data is not verified to be correct, it can still be used against you. This could lead to the discrimination described above, even if it isn’t warranted.

Because data is gathered in so many places and used in so many ways, it’s important to keep it private, if possible. Otherwise you may find yourself losing out due to an inaccurate or negative data profile, or doppelgänger, about you.