Commentary

Start-Up Links 65 Million IP Addresses To Users, Readies Targeting Platform

Web users who don't want to be tracked via standard HTML cookies can opt out in various ways, including rejecting cookies at the browser level or regularly deleting cookies.

Users who don't want to be tracked via Flash cookies also can delete those cookies -- though doing so isn't as easy as deleting HTML cookies.

But even the most tech-savvy users might be stymied by some of the newer, harder-to-control tracking technologies. Two years ago, NebuAd began purchasing data directly from people's broadband providers. While the company said users could opt out of its online behavioral advertising program, it's since come to light that some ISPs that tested the system never gave subscribers that opportunity.

Now, the company ClearSight Interactive is getting ready to launch a form of targeting based on users' IP addresses. ClearSight, which describes IP addresses as the bridge between users' offline and online data, has spent the last 18 months acquiring more than 100 million IP addresses -- along with email addresses and postal addresses -- from publishers. As of today, ClearSight Interactive believes it has collected enough data from publishers to reliably link 65 million "sticky" IP addresses -- typically for people who connect to the Web using cable modems -- to specific individuals, ClearSight president Tim Daly told MediaPost today during a break at the OMMA Behavioral conference.

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The publishers collect a host of data from customers -- including their IP addresses -- when they register, says ClearSight . Generally, publishers ask customers if they are willing to share information about themselves with third-party marketers. If they check the box indicating yes, the publishers pass along their names, email addresses and other information -- including the IP address logged at the time. While some of those IP addresses are from work addresses, libraries, etc., others are from users' homes.

ClearSight Interactive, which hopes to launch in the next four to six weeks, intends to serve ads to visitors whom they can identify based on their IP addresses. The company's model involves working with ad networks -- who would get the IP addresses dynamically from publishers, and then serve ads to specific addresses.

For now, the plan is to target those users only by their neighborhoods (ZIP-codes plus-four) but not to append other data about individual users to the IP addresses. Not yet, anyway. CEO Tom Alison says the company will first wait to see what happens in Congress, where Rep. Rick Boucher (D. Va.) has vowed to introduce privacy legislation.

Alison also makes the debatable claim that users have opted in by agreeing to let publishers share data with third parties. But this position seems to distort the meaning of opt-in, considering that users almost certainly believe they're signing up to receive emails from third parties when they give publishers permission to share data. Surely it hasn't crossed many Web users' minds that a publisher would share its IP logs with a third-party targeting company.

Alison also says that people who have previously opted in also can opt out at the publishers' sites. Again, however, if users don't realize that someone has passed along their IP address for targeting purposes, it won't occur to them to opt out.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau has devoted enormous resources to lobbying against regulation of online ad targeting. The IAB, and other ad groups, argue that the industry can on its own ensure that companies notify users about ad targeting and allow them to opt out.

But when companies continue to push the envelop on targeting -- or on fundamental matters like the meaning of opt-in -- calls for new regulations will only grow stronger.

3 comments about "Start-Up Links 65 Million IP Addresses To Users, Readies Targeting Platform ".
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  1. Adam Tuttle from _, February 26, 2010 at 1:40 p.m.

    This cannot be accurate. I for one have 4 IP's. 2 of which I share with my family, one of which I share with my office mates and another that gets used as the public WiFi which is used by any number of people. At any given point there are 10 people using the same pool of IP's

    In addition I use both a static IP service and a dynamic. All this means that the IP data has many users, all of which have very different habits, likes, dislikes, systems, etc.

    All this means this data is neither accurate or up to date. You might as well target based on demographic assumptions...oh yeah that's the way TV and Radio works...

  2. Tom Alison from ClearSight Interactive, March 1, 2010 at 9:40 a.m.

    "I enjoyed speaking with Ms. Davis during the OMMA conference and wished we had more time to discuss in detail our business model and technology. However, I was surprised at several misconceptions that can perhaps be attributed to a hasty hallway conversation.

    To clarify, ClearSight Interactive does not own or collect PII. We have a file of IP addresses with 9-digit zip code appended. Our data providers supply the zip code linked to IP without any personally identifiable information. We are able to predict a more likely neighborhood or work location than the zip code or longitude and latitude of the ISPs server readily available from many software or online providers. IP geo-location has been the basis for delivering locally targeted content since the inception of the Internet. We simply make it more accurate.

    We offer geo-demographic marketplace data, not behavioral data. We collect no online behavior. Unlike those companies and websites that utilize individual household data and set cookies, we append census and de-identified marketing data at the neighborhood level. We all know that people in the same household or neighborhood are not the same. But for many useful marketing attributes, bird of a feather do flock or even live together. Our approach simply allows Advertisers and websites that do not have visitors’ addresses to finally use proven offline geographic marketing data for targeting on a more mass scale. And scalability matters.

    At ClearSight we take privacy matters very seriously. We retained a leading privacy advocate to provide guidance on FTC concerns and audit our privacy procedures. All our IP and zip data fall within the appropriate privacy provisions of our partners who must maintain the opt-in page, date and time for every record in our file. We regularly update our files and when there is an opt-out, the IP address is removed from our targeting database. In the cookie world, as soon as a cookie is deleted, there are people trying to reset it.

    ClearSight’s principals and partners have helped shape industry standards for consumers' do-not-email, do-not-call, and do-not-mail preferences. We believe ISPs should and will continue to keep the IP addresses they assign private. We hope there is never a do-not-cookie list, but if there is, we can still make it possible for advertisers to utilize proven offline targeting data in a way that maintains user privacy without tracking user viewing behaviors.

    Our goal is to become the bridge between online and offline data. Hopefully it can become a two-way bridge where de-identified online data can also be used to drive offline marketing decisions and ad delivery. To make this possible, we all have a lot of work to do. We look forward to the collaboration of you and your readers.

  3. Scott Milener from AdRocket, Inc., March 2, 2010 at 2:45 p.m.

    IP addresses are at least as bad or worse than cookies as a means of persistent targeting ability. AdRocket has been using anonymous search retargeting data we gather and serving highly matched long tail ads with great success for our publishers. None have to sell us any data about their users to do it.

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