April 9, 2012
Another Glimpse Into How We Are Tracked Online
It’s no secret that living online brings a level of scrutiny by a host of companies and web sites. They either want to sell something to the consumer, or just as likely sell the consumer information to someone who wants to sell products to consumers. The basis of free services on the Internet depends on the collection of consumer demographics and habits. None of this is news. Consumers generally accept this bargain even if they are not sure what happens at the other end of the collection system.
One recent article from The Atlantic that sheds a little light on the process is Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Data Mining But Were Afraid To Ask. It’s a neat little summary of how data gets processed to predict shopping habits and generate those “If you bought X you might like to by Y as well” emails. There are billions of data points out there that get combined with our offline but eminently trackable habits. Use a loyalty card at a supermarket to get discounts? It’s just another piece of the personal puzzle.
For whatever it’s worth, the government also uses data mining to predict criminal activity and terrorist activity. We know this, though our comfort level on data mining rises when the process is out of view. Another article, this one from Bloomberg Business Week offered s similar glimpse into the world of personal data tracking. This one is called Online Porn Is Huge. Like Really, Really Huge. Who Knew? It delved into the traffic patterns of some of the major porn sites. It notes, for example, that one major site gets 4.4 billion page views per month, or 10 times as many views as the New York Times and 3 times as many as CNN. That information, while startling, isn’t what I found interesting. It was stuff like this:
“But it’s not just men on the sites,” you shout. True, although the top porn sites count men as about 75 percent of their visitors. Breaking the stats down further, about half of the visitors make between $25,000 and $50,000 per year, while only 2 percent earn more than $150,000 per year. According to Google, the other interests of Xvideos visitors include Latin American music and gangs and organized crime, while YouPorn visitors like networking equipment and family films, so it’s an eclectic bunch.
How did the authors know that level of detail about the site visitor and what does Google have to do with it? They got their information from the Double-Click Ad Planner. If anyone out there is considering ads to be placed one Google served sites, Google has the analytical tool that can analyze and present the demographics of the target web site users. Or as Google puts it:
- Define audiences by demographics and interests.
- Search for websites relevant to your target audience.
- Access unique users, page views, and other data for millions of websites from over 40 countries.
- Create lists of websites where you'd like to advertise.
- Generate aggregated website statistics for your media plan.
I’ll just say the information presented by the tool is in the aggregate. Nonetheless, the aggregate is made up of millions of little chunks of online habits generated by all of us.
While we’re on the subject, take a look at Selling You On Facebook, from the Wall Street Journal. The summary is:
Many popular Facebook apps are obtaining sensitive information about users—and users' friends—so don't be surprised if details about your religious, political and even sexual preferences start popping up in unexpected places.
We are a long way from the “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog” days. And my guess is they will never come back. There is too much money at stake. [MG]