Ads Could One Day Track You Across Devices
December 8, 2012

Web Surfers May Soon See Targeted Ads Across Different Platforms

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Advertisements will soon be able to follow users from one device to another, thanks to a new database that collects statistical information and builds an anonymous profile based on an individual's preferred browsing software and the amount of time he or she spends on various websites.

The database is compiled by a California-based called Drawbridge, and according to The Telegraph, the company will be tracking user clicks through an analysis of cookies in order to determine how likely it is that a particular click-trail originated from a single individual.

Drawbridge, which has reportedly created profiles for more than 200 million users thus far, hopes they will be able to target those people with advertisements that pertain to the things they are interested in -- and they claim they will be able to do so without violating anyone's privacy. The Telegraph reports the information collected by the firm does not include the user's log-in credentials or location.

"We are triangulating the user´s behavior. As we observe the user, we are able to hone in," Drawbridge founder and CEO Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan told the MIT Technology Review on Friday. They monitor sets of cookies from both mobile and desktop apps or browsers, then, using a "bridging" algorithm to compare and contrast them, they determine whether or not two or more sets of cookies originated from a common source.

These profiles, the MIT publication said, allow Drawbridge to "buy ads for customers such as travel websites and online retailers and improve their investment return by two to three times." They added that the company, who currently employs 23 people including former Google and Yahoo executives, is "using these methods to help mobile app makers recruit users who are more likely to stick with their software."

A spokesman from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which is in charge of overseeing data privacy matters in the UK, told BBC News Friday Drawbridge would have to demonstrate two things in order to be allowed to launch in that territory. First, the company would have to show that the data was truly anonymous, then they would have to assure officials there were no exploitable flaws in their system that could allow a user's identity to be revealed.

"If the data was truly anonymized, he said, then it would fall outside UK data protection regulations," the British news agency also reported. "In addition, he said, Drawbridge and any advertiser using its service would also have to do a good job of telling people why they were seeing particular adverts."