Tracking on 50 of the most-visited websites has had a dramatic rise since 2010. This increase is driven in part by the rise of online-advertising, according to a new study by data-management company Krux Digital Inc.
On an average visit, 56 instances of data collection are triggered, up from just 10 instances when Krux conducted its initial study in 2010.
The rise in the number of online companies collecting data about Web-surfing behavior is a testament to the power of the $31 billion online-advertising business. This industry increasingly relies on data about users’ Web surfing behavior to target customer specific advertising.
Krux conducted its survey by crawling up to 10 pages on each of the 50 most-visited sites. The study didn’t include sites that require a user to log in, and Krux didn’t identify the sites it surveyed.
Despite rising concerns about online privacy, the online industry’s data-collection efforts have expanded. One reason is the popularity of online auctions, where advertisers buy data about users’ Web browsing. It is estimated that such auctions, known as real-time bidding exchanges, contribute to 40% of online data collection.
In real-time bidding, as soon as a user visits a Web page, the visit is auctioned to the highest bidder, based on attributes such as the type of page visited or previous Web browsing by the user. The bidding is done automatically using computer algorithms. It is estimated that real-time bidding will constitute 18% of the online display-ad market this year, up from 13% last year.
To make the auctions successful, advertising companies are racing to put tracking technology on as many websites as they can. This tracking technology gives them user and Web-page data to sell in the auction.
Krux in its latest study found that more than 300 companies collected data about users, up from 167 companies in 2010. The latest figure easily topped the 131 companies that The Wall Street Journal identified in a 2010 survey of tracking on the 50 most-visited websites.
Krux also found that data collectors were piggybacking on each other more than half the time. For example, when a user visited a website that had code for one tracking technology, the data collection would call out to and trigger other tracking technologies that weren’t embedded on the site. As a result, websites often don’t know how much data are being collected about their users.
Frustrated by a flood of privacy violations, the Federal Trade Commission issued a strong call for commercial-data collectors to adopt better privacy practices and called for Congress to pass comprehensive privacy legislation.
In a 73-page report on privacy in the digital age, the FTC called on U.S. commercial data collectors to implement a “Do Not Track” button in Web browsers by the end of the year.
“Simply put, your computer is your property. No one has the right to put anything on your computer that you don’t want,” said Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC.
The agency also, for the first time, turned its attention to offline data brokers. These brokers buy and sell names, addresses and other personal information. The FTC is calling on them to create a centralized website providing consumers with access to their data, and the right to see and make corrections to their information.