The Whole Internet is Now Marketing Spyware

In The Consumer Trap book, I predicted that the whole internet would eventually become a tool of covert big business marketing research.

Told you so:

NEW YORK ( — Marketers are pushing the boundaries on data collection, but how far will regulators and the public let it go?

The latest frontier for marketers is taking offline data such as income, credit rating, home value, savings, past purchases, number of children living at home and other data, and merging that with the blooming online data stream.

The offline data — including extremely sensitive, personally identifiable information — has been used by the direct-marketing industry for decades. But only recently have marketers begun to connect that trove to online behavior. The resulting picture is revolutionary for marketers.

From The Wall Street Journal for March 15, 2010:

Digital-marketing companies are rapidly moving to blend information about consumers’ Web-surfing behavior with reams of other personal data available offline, seeking to make it easier for online advertisers to reach their target audiences.

EXelate Media, a start-up that collects and sells Web data on consumers, is set to announce an alliance Monday with Nielsen, the big consumer-research firm. The two firms say that under the deal, eXelate will tie its data on more than 150 million Internet users to Nielsen’s database, which includes information on 115 million American households, to provide more-detailed profiles of consumers.

“We can build [consumer] profiles from any building blocks,” says Meir Zohar, chief executive of eXelate, which was founded in 2007 and has offices in New York and Israel. “Age, gender, purchase intent, interests, parents, bargain shoppers—you can assemble anything.”

EXelate gathers online consumer data through deals with hundreds of Web sites. The firm determines a consumer’s age, sex, ethnicity, marital status and profession by scouring Web-site registration data. It pinpoints, for example, which consumers are in the market to buy a car or are fitness buffs, based on their Internet searches and the sites they frequent. It gathers and stores the information using tracking cookies, or small strings of data that are placed on the hard drive of a consumer’s computer when that consumer visits a participating site.

Advertisers, in turn, purchase the cookie data from eXelate and use it to buy targeted online ads.

The new deal will allow advertisers to go to eXelate to buy New York-based Nielsen’s trove of data converted to a cookie-based digital format. That data comes from sources including the Census Bureau, the firm’s own research and that of other consumer-research firms, such as Mediamark Research and Experian Simmons.

By the way, when I wrote The Consumer Trap in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the biggest existing marketing database was Mastercard’s pool of spying on 70 million households. Now, Nielsen’s database includes 115 million households.

How many households does the U.S. Census Bureau believe there are in the United States at present? 114,825,428.

So, every household in the country is now being tracked, in detail, by our corporate capitalist overclass.

Meanwhile, the parts of off-the-job life, still sometimes quaintly called “free time,” that aren’t devoted to taking in corporate capitalist sales communications and/or shopping are increasingly serving as marketing research vehicles.

Two words: Market totalitarianism.

Not that it much matters, given the difficulty of escaping the system altogether, but if you are inclined to resist, here is the link to opt out of eXelate. It’s probably worth the gesture, if only to flip the bird to the powers that be.