Behavioral Data: Valuing Customers. Then Avoiding Them.

Behavioral Data: Valuing Customers. Then Avoiding Them., By Tom Steinart-Threkland, June 5, 2009

There’s little question that just about every profit-making company out there would like to know exactly what you’re doing on the Web, all the time.And that there’s a clear (profitable) market to be had in data that captures your “behavior” on the Internet. There is in fact, a street value for behavioral information, as Gartner analyst Andrew Frank, points out. And it’s captured in “cost per thousand” calculations on data exchanges such as BlueKai and Exelate. These relate to the anonymous IDs, aka cookies, that Web sites use to track sale, purchase and other activities. Advertisers pay ad networks anywhere from $1.50 a thousand to about $10 a thousand, for the information, which then lets them target their pitches better and get higher returns on the “cost per thousand” they in turn pay for placing ads. The latest company to get caught in the crossfire of using this behavioral data is Sears, the once-proud retailer of all things American. Even kits to build houses (way back in its early catalog days). Its current incarnation, the Sears Holdings Management Company, in fact, put a price of exactly $10 on being able to attach some sort of code that would track very precise details about a person’s “online browsing.” This, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, included details about online shopping, drug-prescription records, video rentals, library-borrowing histories, names and addresses of e-mail correspondents as well as bank statements. The recipient also would be able to take part in a “dynamic and highly interactive online community” where they could converse with Sears and its sister retailer, Kmart. But Sears and Kmart did not tell their past, present or potential customers (about 5,000 of the) that their “online browsing” would be tracked in such detail. And the Federal Trade Commission took the company to task. The charges were settled, with undisclosed (surprise, surprise) details.