Advertisers: Don’t mind us as we follow you everywhere

Online advertising is big bucks and those bucks get even bigger with the more information that advertisers know about you and your habits – both on-line and off-line. From things like income and credit scores to whether you have a fishing license to what kind of car you drive your data is being collected everyday. For the major players like Acxiom it doesn’t matter whether that data is your on-line surfing and buying habits or if it is your off-line shopping habits – it’s all data for them to collect.

On-line much of this data collection happens as a result of ‘cookies’ – those simple little text files that websites drop on your computer as you visit, and buy from them. In the past these cookies were fairly simple things that let you login to a site automatically or remembered you items you wanted to buy at sites. Since then though they have gotten a lot more complex and carry a lot more information which companies like Acxiom suck up every minute of the day.

Consumers can avoid cookie-based tracking by deleting cookies from their computers or setting their browsers not to accept cookies. But few do, and privacy advocates say it is easy for companies to add cookies without users noticing.

For decades, data companies like Experian and Acxiom have compiled reams of information on every American: Acxiom estimates it has 1,500 pieces of data on every American, based on information from warranty cards, bridal and birth registries, magazine subscriptions, public records and even dog registrations with the American Kennel Club.

Patrick Williams, the publisher of the personal finance magazine Worth, recently asked Acxiom to find the names and addresses of 10,000 Americans from each of 11 cities who had houses worth more than $1 million, net worth of over $2 million, lived within a few miles of other rich people and subscribed to business publications.

“They are the scariest data research company around — they know far too much,” said Mr. Williams, who said he was very happy with the amount of information it gave him.

Source : New York Times :: Ads Follow Web Users, and Get More Personal

Typically a Datran’s, a competitor to Acxiom, cookie can hold 50 to a 100 pieces of information and while these companies claim the data is all anonymous many privacy advocates are concerned by the amount being collected.

Paul M. Schwartz, a law professor and privacy expert at the law school of the University of California, Berkeley, said the unwitting participation by consumers makes online marketing different from offline.

“Interactive media really gets into this creepy Orwellian thing, where it’s a record of our thoughts on the way to decision-making,” he said. “We’re like the data-input clerks now for the industry.”

Source : New York Times :: Ads Follow Web Users, and Get More Personal