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    Wall Street Journal: As Web Surfers Share, Marketers Track

    The Wall Street Journal takes a look at online targeted behavioral advertising and the data collected by marketers about Internet users’ browsing habits:

    Add this to the list of consumer-data collection tactics that can raise eyebrows: Clearspring Technologies’ “AddThis” button. The button allows users to alert friends and contacts to interesting or useful material on the Web. For instance, with a click, a news article could be sent to a friend over email or posted to a site like Facebook Inc. More than 1.5 million web properties have implemented AddThis, hoping the easy links—and implied endorsements— help drive traffic.

    Clearspring recently started aggregating data about consumers’ Web sharing habits into segments that marketers can buy to target online ads.

    While many websites and marketers are jumping on the technology, some companies, such as AOL Inc., are having qualms. […]

    Clearspring said it doesn’t collect information about consumers on all the sites that feature its button, and websites can opt out of the advertising data collection. “This is very much a participatory system,” said Hooman Radfar, Clearspring’s 30-year-old founder and chief executive. The company says it doesn’t collect, store or sell personally identifiable data or data in several sensitive categories, including health or kids.

    For most websites, when a user clicks on AddThis—which also can appear as a simple “share” or “bookmark” button— Clearspring collects information about the type of content he or she is looking at and where the user is sending it. Earlier this year, Clearspring started aggregating that data to place the person who is clicking into groups—say, movie enthusiasts or mobile-phone buyers. The company also splices users into groups based on how likely they are to share media on Facebook, Twitter and other social-media sites. […]

    Websites, advertisers and technology companies all are eager to reach Web surfers with advertising that will mesh with their interests. But, amid heightened scrutiny of privacy practices, some publishers are increasingly leery of how data from their sites will be used.

    AOL said it started examining its relationship with the number of companies that collect data on its sites earlier this month following a congressional inquiry. That inquiry stemmed from a recent Wall Street Journal investigation into online privacy and tracking technologies. The Wall Street Journal contacted AOL about its relationship with Clearspring last Friday. AOL said it started removing Clearspring’s AddThis technologies by Sunday.

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