ClearSight Launches Targeting Platform Tying IP Addresses To Offline Data
The start-up ClearSight Interactive on Monday launched a new behavioral targeting platform that is already raising eyebrows of privacy advocates.
The company, which has collected 40 million "sticky" IP addresses, says its new platform, dubbed ClearProfile, will allow marketers to target Web users based on the profiles associated with their specific neighborhoods.
For its platform, ClearSight obtains users' IP addresses from publishers, who themselves gather it from users when they register. Some of those IP addresses change regularly, or are from work addresses or public places, but others persist and can be tied to users' homes, ClearSight CEO Tom Alison says.
The company doesn't keep users' names or home addresses. But it ties users' "sticky" IP addresses to their neighborhoods (at the ZIP-code plus-four level), and appends offline market research data about those neighborhoods. Using that offline research, ClearSight says it can place IP addresses into marketing segments, including detailed medical, financial and political categories. Segments include categories like "Medical Conditions -- Impotence," "Political Affiliation -- Republican," and "Homeowners With Home Equity Loans."
ClearSight, which doesn't itself collect clickstream data, isn't appending any information about people's Web history with their IP addresses. But the company is working with the demand side platform LucidMedia, which offers marketers the ability to combine ClearSight's data with clickstream data that's stored on cookies.
Alison says that combining datasets could allow marketers to make more granular buys. For instance, he says, a marketer might know that a user has visited a Corvette site, but wouldn't necessarily know whether that person is a potential buyer. ClearSight's platform would allow marketers to avoid retargeting those users if their IP addresses show they aren't in a geographic area known for buying luxury sports cars, Alison says.
For now the company is still lining up marketers. "We are talking to a number of agencies and clients right now about testing the data," says Alison. "We're ready to go."
Alison says that users have opted in to the platform because they say they're willing to receive offers from third parties when they register with publishers. He also says the company honors opt-out requests and removes around 1 million people a month from its database. Alison declined to name any publishers he is working with, saying the company has signed confidentiality agreements.
Some privacy experts are questioning whether users truly "opt in" to ClearSight's use of their IP addresses simply by agreeing to receive promotions from publishers' affiliates.
"It strains the limits of sanity to think that someone with a straight face would claim that users have opted in to being labeled 'impotent,'" says Jules Polonetsky, co-chair and director of the think tank Future of Privacy Forum. "This appears to be exactly the kind of behavior that regulators want to see constrained."
Last month, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) floated a draft of a bill that would impose new requirements on companies that collect information about users, including IP addresses.
Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, adds that his organization plans to ask the Federal Trade Commission to examine ClearSight's practices.
Lee Tien, an attorney with the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, adds that ClearSight's initiative demonstrates that data is being shared with more people than Web users probably think. "As with most privacy issues, however, we can't see what they're doing with data about us," he says. "Accordingly, those who 'consented' may never know what they really permitted."