Or do they?
A new analysis of online consumer data shows that large Web companies are learning more than ever before about the details of what people search for on the Internet. The analysis was conducted for The New York Times by the research firm comScore, provides what advertising executives say “is the first broad estimate of the amount of consumer data transmitted to Internet companies every day.” What’s indicated is that Web companies are, in effect, taking the trail of crumbs people leave behind as they search the Internet and analyzing them to anticipate people’s next steps. So anybody who searches for information on topics such as sports equipment, clothing, hotels and soft drinks may see ads for those products and services later on.
Web firms once could monitor the actions of consumers only on their own sites. But over the last couple of years, the Internet giants have expanded their reach by acting as go betweens that place ads on Web sites, and as a result, can follow people’s activities on far more sites.
ComScore analyzed 15 major media companies’ potential to collect online data. The analysis captured how many searches, display ads, and page views occurred on those sites and in their networks. Yahoo came out with the most in a month on its own sites, MySpace, owned by News Corp., and AOL, a unit of Time Warner, was not far behind. Google also has scores of data-collection points, but the company says it is unique in that it mostly uses current information rather than past actions to select ads. The depth of Yahoo’s database helps explain why AOL is talking with Yahoo
about a merger and Microsoft is willing to pay more than $41 billion to
The comScore figures includes the data that consumers leave behind as they browse, and does not take into account voluntary exchanges of information such as, registering for sites or e-mail services.