News Column

Startup Sells Your Social Media Interests

Dec 12, 2012

Marie Szaniszlo

Social Media Interests

A new startup based out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology is giving Amazon a run for its money by allowing e-commerce retailers to recommend products to customers based on interests they've mentioned on social media.

Infinite Analytics offers retailers a personalized product-recommendation engine by creating a "social genome" of a customer's profile on social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, said CEO Akash Bhatia.

"Amazon uses your past buying history to recommend products to you, but I think our recommendation engine is more powerful because it's looking at the current needs of customers based on what they're saying they like on Facebook and Twitter," said Chief Technology Officer Purushotsam Botla.

Erik Brynjolfsson, one of the company's advisors, said Infinite Analytics "levels the playing field" for retailers, who have been losing market share to Amazon, partly because of its recommendation engine.

"It's good for the retailer because they sell more things," said Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Center for Digital Business, "and it's good for the customer because they're not bombarded by ads they're not interested in."

David Jacobs, consumer protection counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., said that may not satisfy people who object to someone they don't know collecting personal information about them.

"You could imagine people saying, 'When I allow my Facebook page to be public, I don't necessarily expect a company to monetize that and create a profile of me,' " Jacobs said.

Leon Sandler, another advisor to Infinite Analytics, said those privacy concerns hinge on how well the information is controlled and who has access to it.

"With Infinite Analytics, the data is very secure," said Sandler, executive director of the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation at MIT. "A recommendation gets made, but your actual information is never shared with anyone."

Source: (c)2012 the Boston Herald. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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