Sex, drugs, and Internet advertising

Sites like YouTube, Twitter, and OkCupid are sharing your username with Web advertisers -- and often a lot more. So much for 'anonymous' tracking. UPDATE: Lotame and BlueKai respond.

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I believe Lotame when it says it doesn’t match usernames to anonymous profiles. That doesn’t mean it won’t match these things down the road, or that someone else won’t build a highly profitable business based on that very thing. It’s called “lead generation,” and it’s a multi-billion-dollar opportunity. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Self regulation ain’t working. It didn’t work for the banking and brokerage industries, why would it work for Internet advertising? We need better options than relying on the goodwill of data profilers to not monetize the information they are being handed for free.

Update #1: BlueKai responds via a spokeshuman:

"BlueKai does not buy or sell sensitive data attributes like 'drug use frequency' from OkCupid.  We do capture standard demographic attributes like zip, age and gender from several publishers. The report that cited BlueKai as a seller of such sensitive attributes was mistaken, and [Mayer] has posted a correction."

Update #2: Lotame COO Adam Lehman responded to my questions via email after this story was published. He says that while Lotame does receive information about drug, alcohol and nicotine use from OkCupid, it discards this data. However, Lotame does use anonymous information from OkCupid about pets, gender, income and some ethnicities for different audience segments.

As for why Lotame thinks I'm a gender-confused geriatric, Lehman writes:

"This is far from a perfect science. Your situation underscores the irony of the intense focus and concern with online behavioral data collection and licensing, given the inherently imprecise nature of this process, based on self-imposed industry restrictions."

He adds that Lotame (and BlueKai) support Evidon's Open Data Partnership, which aims to give consumers more control over the data that ad networks compile about them.

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