BlueKai is one of the largest aggregators of consumer browsing behavior data (actually, they say they’re THE largest behavioral data provider in the US). While they do not perform much of their own predictive analysis, they sell their data to tons of advertising companies, who in turn use this data to generate thorough profiles of consumers and target ads.
How it works:
When you visit a website in BlueKai’s network, that site installs a tracker on your computer. That tracker passively watches where you browse the internet and what you do on different websites and collects this anonymized data using that tracker’s unique ID number.
BlueKai’s partner and customer companies take this data and use it to profile you: where they think you live, what kind of job you have and how much you earn, where you spend your money, etc. (If you aren’t currently using a Do Not Track service like DoNotTrackMe, you can actually view what BlueKai has guessed about you here.) When you visit websites whose advertisements recognize your tracker’s ID, you will see ads that are targeted to the profile that has been built for you.
BlueKai’s software lets its customers sort consumers into 30,000 highly detailed market segments like “light spenders” and “safety-net seniors,” according to the New York Times. The company estimates your average net worth, your political views, your interests, your spending habits, and more.
Even though the profiling done for each person is technically anonymous, the more information BlueKai gathers, the easier it becomes to theoretically identify a person. Additionally, your data is shared among a ton of partners and customers of BlueKai, and they will all have different policies and strategies in place for retaining, anonymizing, or protecting your data. The profiling that BlueKai enables may bring you special offers and targeted advertisements, but it also opens you up to the possibility of pricing discrimination. When advertisers analyze huge quantities of data, they aren’t just looking for trends – they’re also looking for outcomes. If they determine that people who like Apple products are more willing to spend money on certain devices, what is to stop them from raising the price of those devices for those consumers?
This profiling can also get a little too personal; earlier this year, there was a widely-reported instance of Target alerting a teen girl’s family of her pregnancy with a sudden influx of coupons, all based on her spending habits at Target. There have also been complaints about the intrusiveness of targeted ads. Imagine how weird it might be if after you searched online for diet plans, suddenly every website you visited showed you ads for weight loss products or extra large clothing? This kind of profiling isn’t just personal – it’s uncomfortable.
How might BlueKai benefit me?
Part of the goal of targeted advertising is to serve up more relevant content to users, so letting BlueKai collect data about your browsing habits may let you see ads that are more tailored to your interests and receive more special offers from companies you like…if they’ve profiled you correctly.
Read more about some of the other trackers DNTMe is now blocking: