BlueKai singled out for cookies that spy on customers

Photo of a computer and notebook

Are our computers making spying possible? CC by Hodgers/Flickr

BlueKai, Inc. was the focus of a debate Tuesday. The Bellevue, Wash-based data exchange outfit rose among the hottest web topics after the Wall Street Journal quoted BlueKai’s CEO in an article about Internet surveillance. The article, number one in a series, says that cookies are “spying on consumers” when the programs gather data on browsing habits. Disagreeing with the Journal’s stance, BlueKai CEO Omar Tawakoi said that it is damaging to the online industry when cookies are called spying.

BlueKai cookie data tracks browsing habits

In 2008 BlueKai was a start-up created to carve a marketing niche online in “data exchange.” TechFlash reports that BlueKai cookies on leading travel, automotive and retail sites compile anonymous customer data. Online auctions created by BlueKai invite bids on the data from advertisers. Because BlueKai cookies track browsing habits, advertisers pay to target people who have shown they might be interested in a particular vacation destination, car model, etc.

Data exchange a rapidly growing industry

Every day, according to the Wall Street Journal, BlueKai puts 50 million bits of data about individual browsing habits on the data exchange. The series of reports is billed as a saga about how spying on Internet users has become a bigger, more intrusive business than most people suspect. A Journal study of the nation’s top 50 websites found that an average of 64 cookies per user were installed without warning. Location, income and shopping interests — even medical conditions — are recorded by the cookies. Companies such as BlueKai package and market the customer profiles on data exchanges that work like the stock market.

BlueKai CEO defends the use of cookies

In a post on Advertising Age, Tawakoi rebutted the Journal’s argument. Tawakoi said cookies give advertisers the flexibility to show consumers ads they are more likely to be interested in, as well as control the frequency with which they are presented. The revenue ensures that content providers are compensated. Calling cookies spying is misleading at best and detrimental to the success of an emerging industry at its worst, he said. Making the online data collection process more transparent, which BlueKai does already with an online registry, is the solution he offers. BlueKai’s online registry offers to show consumers the information that cookies gather about them and lets them set preferences about what the company is allowed to use.

Sources:

TechFlash:

Wall Street Journal:

Advertising Age:

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