ShareThis Page
Business Headlines

Internet users reclaim anonymity through privacy programs

| Saturday, May 11, 2013, 7:39 p.m.

Dozens of silent watchers, working for corporations that want to learn about you so they can sell you things, track you when you go online.

“Consumers are concerned about their privacy and about being tracked online. But the commission recognizes that a lot of content is advertising-supported, and advertising is tracking-supported,” said Peder Magee, a senior staff attorney at the Federal Trade Commission who specializes in “behavioral advertising” policy.

“So what we've said all along is, ‘If you're going to do this, be open and transparent, and give consumers control.' “

Sophisticated Web users know they're being tracked, and that tracking-based ads help pay to make Web sites available - much as ads pay for other media like newspapers and TV, says David Morgan, a former newspaper lawyer for Philadelphia's Duane Morris LLP who later led pioneering online ad-and-tracking agencies like Tacoda Inc. He's now a New York media investor and head of TV ad-buying software-maker Simulmedia.

Tracker-identification programs like Evidon Inc.'s Ghostery program and browser-sponsored tracking systems from Apple, Microsoft, and Mozilla make the hidden watchers more visible to curious Web users, and make blocking them easier.

“We're trying to reveal the invisible Web,” said Scott Meyer, chief executive of Evidon, the New York digital advertising company that bought Ghostery from founder David Cancel three years ago.

The son of a former Sunoco marketing chief, Meyer was a Wall Street investment banker and the New York Times Co.'s digital media chief before joining investment firm Warburg Pincus and using the firm's capital to set up Evidon three years ago.

Ghostery claims 18 million users, almost half of whom share their browsing data —anonymously — with the service. Owner Evidon then sells the aggregated data to retail and ad clients. They pay the firm for guidance on complying with Web privacy guidelines.

Evidon services the Digital Advertising Alliance's AdChoices program, which makes it easier for consumers to block unwanted online ads.

“People will say they don't like advertising. But people do like the right kind of advertising,” said Crystal Gurin, Philadelphia publisher of eMarketer, an online media research and reporting service that uses Ghostery data. Gurin means advertising that announces itself and tells users about things they want.

“The kind of service Evidon provides is absolutely essential in the world of big consumer advertising,” she added. “Especially if this industry strives to be self-regulated.”

Advertisers and ad agencies that track Internet users across many websites are making a lot more information public about their tracking activities than the corporations that run popular search, retail, and news sites tell their Web visitors, said Alan Chappell, a New York Internet privacy lawyer. “(Retailers) have already been collecting information on you for 100 years,” including store spending habits and credit records, he noted.

Evidon its San Francisco rival, and trade associations like the Digital Advertising Alliance and their lawyers have successfully prodded advertisers to participate in these tracking-disclosure programs. That has helped ease calls for federal regulation, while also helping advertisers compete with Google and other powerful Web advertising providers, Chappell said.

“(Meyer) has done a fantastic job of leading a very difficult conversation in our industry and putting customers first, with a technology that gives people meaningful transparency and meaningful choice,” said Mario Diez, chief executive of West Conshohocken, Pa.-based PointRoll, an online ad agency owned by newspaper publisher Gannett.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me