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Online tracking increasing at an incredible pace

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Do you have any idea how often you are tracked when you’re online? A new study shows that racking of web users’ behavior is growing at a startling pace. But a free browser add on tool can protect your privacy if online tracking concerns you.

Berkeley Center for Law and Technology‘s Fall 2012 Web Privacy Census, based on online privacy company Abine‘s web crawling and analysis technology, determined that the use of third-party tracking cookies on the 100 most popular websites increased by 11 percent from May to October 2012.

Albine makes a free Do Not Track browser add on tool that not only prevents web sites from tracking you, it will show you exactly how many tracking cookies – some from third parties – a site is trying to install.

Amount of tracking will double

If present trends continue, the amount of online tracking will double in about two and a half years. In addition, tracking technology is evolving as advertisers move away from Flash cookies, which iOS devices do not support, to HTML5 local storage.  The study concludes that online tracking is growing in both pervasiveness and sophistication.

“In our most recent crawl of websites, we found statistically significant increases in online tracking from just five months ago,” said Chris Hoofnagle, director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.

“All of the most popular websites are using cookies. In addition, the vast majority of these cookies are from third party domains that consumers may not expect to be present on the site.”

Increasing at “an incredible pace”

“The Fall 2012 Web Privacy Census shows that online tracking is increasing at an incredible pace,” stated Bill Kerrigan, CEO of Abine.

“In just five short months, the quantity of trackers and the technology used to track both evolved. The consequences of all this data collection are growing and real, and we hope that by raising awareness people will know they need to take action.”

The rapid evolution of online tracking techniques often outpaces the knowledge or awareness of US consumers, a majority of whom said in a 2012 Pew survey that they “don’t like having [their] online behavior tracked and analyzed.”

An October 2012 privacy study, also from UC Berkeley, found that 60 percent of consumers said they would want Do Not Track options to stop websites from collecting information about users, a position that the advertising industry opposes.

Berkeley used Abine’s proprietary crawling and analysis technology for both the May and October 2012 web analyses.

Technology provides greater privacy

The technology also powers Abine’s DoNotTrackPlus, the free browser add-on that surpasses the passive Do Not Track header used by most browsers to actively block online tracking technologies, enabling greater online privacy for web users.

“The Fall 2012 Web Privacy Census shows that online tracking is increasing at an incredible pace,” stated Bill Kerrigan, CEO of Abine.

“In just five short months, the quantity of trackers and the technology used to track both evolved. The consequences of all this data collection are growing and real, and we hope that by raising awareness people will know they need to take action.”

The results come on the heels of a 2012 presidential election that saw both campaigns using a previously unseen amount and depth of online tracking to categorize eligible voters and influence their votes.

As the holiday season approaches, website tracking will play a significant role behind the scenes on top retail websites. US consumers spent $32 billion on online shopping in 2011 and are expected to top that number in 2012.

For more information and to view the Fall 2012 Web Privacy Census, please visit www.law.berkeley.edu/privacycensus.htm.

Online behavioral tracking pervasive, Google privacy practices often violated

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

KeynoteAn in depth analysis of the behavioral tracking of 269 websites across four industries found that 86 percent place one or more third-party tracking cookies on visitors and many violate Google’s privacy practices, says Keynote Systems (NASDAQ:KEYN),which sells Internet and mobile cloud testing and monitoring solutions.

What’s more, 60 percent of these third-parties had at least one tracker that didn’t promise to comply with at least one common tracking standard.

A third-party tracker in this context is simply defined as a business that has access to your computer, when you visit a particular Website, so that they can record your browsing history and other personal data, and is a completely separate organization from the owner of that site.

The presence and identity of third-party trackers is typically invisible to users browsing their favorite Web pages.

tracking graphic

The number of Websites that allow visitors to be tracked by third-parties may be surprising to some, but as consumers begin to understand that their online behavior can be recorded, enterprises will have to work even harder to ensure that consumers’ privacy expectations are met,” said Ray Everett, Keynote’s director of privacy services.

Keynote analysis showed that nearly all Travel & Hospitality and News & Media Websites have third-party tracking (95 percent and 96 percent respectively).

Three of four financial service sites use third-party tracking

Most surprising was the fact that nearly three out of four financial services sites examined expose visitors to third-party tracking.

And of the financial services companies with tracking, 52 percent of third-party trackers violate at least one of the industry’s most common privacy standards – such as participation in industry self-regulatory programs or offering consumer opt-out choices.

Keynote’s analysis also discovered that of the 211 third-party trackers identified during the study, only one committed to honor a visitor’s request not to be tracked via the new Do Not Track feature browser vendors are implementing. In addition, News & Media sites expose site visitors to an average of 14 unique third-party tracking companies during the course of a typical visit.

Behavioral advertising, a common use of third-party tracking data, is an increasingly common practice on the Web and one of the primary ways Websites fund their operations.

Third-party trackers place cookies on the browsers of site’s visitors to track a user’s clicks and path through the Web. They also can make note of things like what the visitor buys and where the visitor goes once they leave.

Working online at the TechJournal daily, we run various spyware removal software such as Superantispyware and delete more than 400 adware tracking cookies every few days. While most are not particularly harmful, they will clog your computer as they accumulate.

A “wild west mentality” prevails

“The Web advertising ecosystem is sprawling and complicated, with hundreds of ad networks all competing to gather as much targeting data on consumers as they possibly can,” Everett noted.

“It’s very much still a ‘wild west’ mentality and the activities of aggressive tracking companies can place Website publishers in a difficult position: how do you monetize your Website without alienating your visitors and exposing yourself to legal risk?”

Everett concluded, “Ultimately, the burden of policing third-party trackers falls on the shoulders of Website publishers. A publisher is responsible for the content of their Website, including the practices of the advertisers appearing on it. Monitoring the constantly changing advertising ecosystem is a daunting task, but the consequence of failure is the placing of your brand’s reputation at tremendous risk.”

Keynote performed its online behavioral tracking analysis on data collected from the company’s own global test and measurement network and leveraged the Keynote’s new Web Privacy Tracking service announced last month.

Real-time bidding for online ads gaining traction, will hit $6.47B by 2015

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

IdcA study conducted by PubMatic with research firm IDC showing that Real-Time Bidding (RTB) will amount to $6.47 billion in ad spend by 2015 in the U.S. and major markets in Western Europe.

Real-Time Bidding lets advertisers bid on ads served on a page in real-time rather than reserving inventory. RTB platforms use data about web users, generally from cookies, that lets the advertiser bid on ads targeted to likely buyers. It all happens faster than you can blink.

Here’s a blog post at Crowd Science providing some insight. Or, see this post at ClickZ.

The IDC research analyzes the state of RTB across the United States and in Western European nations France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The report estimates the current and past spending on RTB-based display ad sales and forecasts yearly growth until 2015. Highlights from the research include:

  • RTB-Based Spending: By 2015, RTB-based spending will stand for 27% in the United States (up from 10% in 2011), 25% in the UK (up from 6%), 21% in France (up from 4%) and 20% in Germany (up from 4%). Total spending on RTB in the US will reach $5.1 billion; $680 MM for the UK; $219 MM for France; and $495 MM for Germany.
  • Expected Growth: Display advertising sales based on RTB will experience strong growth until 2015 in the US (71% from 2010-2015), the UK (114%), France (103%) and Germany (99%).
  • Direct vs. Indirect Sales Related to RTB: By 2015, the majority of indirect ad revenue volume will be traded using RTB in the US and the most developed European markets. By 2015, RTB-based direct sales will contribute to 15% of total RTB sales in the US, 7% in the UK, 14% in Germany, and 13% in France.

“Real-Time Bidding is rapidly penetrating the display ad market, with spending nearly doubling in 2011. Furthermore, we expect it to double again in 2012. The value it brings to both publishers and marketers is undeniable,” said IDC VP Karen Weide.

“Spending on RTB will grow not just for indirectly sold inventory – premium inventory will also be sold via RTB on a much greater scale in the near future,” said Rajeev Goel, Co-Founder and CEO of PubMatic. “The benefits of automation are clear for all parties in the display ecosystem.”

Catalysts for RTB

RTB has been growing due to its promise of improving return on investment for publishers, agencies and advertisers. Through RTB, publishers stand to improve yield, automate sales processes, and reduce costs. Agencies and advertisers benefit because RTB trading improves campaign efficiency and return on ad spend.

The Future: Automating Direct Sales

The mounting pressure to improve profitability will compel more and more publishers to transition into RTB-based trading of directly sold inventory. As advertisers become more comfortable with the process for indirect ad sales, they will demand more ways of incorporating it with ad buys, which will include media bought directly from publishers.

PubMatic’s Ad Revenue Report

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