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Jedi knights of online privacy strike back at data-mining empires

Firms such as CloudCapture, which launched Wednesday, and Abine, which debuted its 'Do Not Track Plus' app in February, see a ripe opportunity to turn the technology developed to mine personal data into a tool consumers can use to fight its abuse.

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This has been dubbed “the year of Big Data,” meaning a time when online firms such as Facebook and Google are capitalizing on an unprecedented and vast amount of personal, user-generated information.

But the rush to corral, and monetize, that data is also fast ushering in a new digital management industry built around growing worries over the loss of personal privacy.

“Every day consumers are beginning to pay more attention to this issue,” says Rob D’Ovidio, an associate professor of criminal justice and an expert on Internet security at Drexel University in Philadelphia. As more services to tackle the topic appear, “they will not only give consumers new tools but they will play an educational role in pushing understanding of the larger privacy issues.”

Concerns have been escalating over what these Internet giants are doing with user data. Everyone from the White House and the Federal Trade Commission to the EU, and digital rights groups from the US to Europe, have been tussling with the problem of how to get online companies to respect consumers' privacy rights.

So far, voluntary moves by players such as Facebook and Google to address privacy concerns – notably a “Do Not Track” button that has no enforcement mechanism behind it – lack teeth, say critics.

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