Testing industry self-regulation with adMarketplace (updated 12/12)

Update 12/12/12: In response to this post, adMarketplace has amended their privacy policy to eliminate the ability to utilize offline data from other sources. The revised policy also is more narrow in the use of IP addresses, contemplating that they are collected only upon clicking (not viewing) of an advertisement on their network. I also understand that a formal opt-out process is under consideration.

In curating Trackerlist, we come across some sketchy privacy practices by data collectors from time to time. Usually these come from fringe players and bootstrapped startups. It’s much more disturbing when we see lousy poor privacy framework from a company with data on over 100 million people, blue-chip customers and multiple privacy certifications.

But that is the situation with adMarketplace.com, a company which grabs search queries from a network of websites and targets display ads based on what people are searching for. Instead of tracking only through user-controllable browser cookies (like most reputable data companies), adMarketplace connects your profile directly with your IP address. According to their privacy policy, adMarketplace takes it a step further, obtaining offline data (purchasing trends, demographic and public records), which are also matched to your profile. They don’t say whether they use personally identifiable data in this process, although that often provides the key for offline-to-offline profile matching.

Given this aggressive approach, you might expect adMarketplace to provide users with a robust way to opt-out of data collection. You will be disappointed, as you can see from their policy:

In other words, there’s no opt-out.

Not only have seal providers signed up to the adMarketplace privacy framework, Google has certified the company to reach users across the vast Doubleclick network, and these well-known companies are enjoying the benefits of aggressive data practices as customers of adMarketplace:

I’d like to propose a simple test of the effectiveness of the ad-industry self-regulation program. In a couple of weeks, let’s check back on the adMarketplace privacy framework and the companies certifying it. That will tell us a lot about whether consumers should put faith in the industry’s efforts to police itself.

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