Online tracking hot on our trail

A new study says tracking on the busiest websites has jumped dramatically compared to last year.

Kai Ryssdal: We are -- as one hopes we all know by now -- being tracked every instant that we're online. Every website, every click, every little thing we do online -- somebody knows about it. Those somebodies, of course, being advertisers.

A study out today from the data security company Krux looked at some of the busiest sites on the web. A year ago, about 10 pieces of consumer data were picked up from a typical web visit. Now, it's five times that. And, to add insult to cyber-injury, advertisers are converting that data to sales pitches faster than ever before.

Marketplace's Queena Kim reports.


Queena Kim: Irene Lim was killing time online looking for vacation packages for her family. And as she kept searching...

Irene Lim: I’m just getting a barrage of all these ads from Expedia, from Priceline from all these other agencies, it’s like wow people know.

But they didn’t know everything because long after Lim decided against the vacation.

Lim: I keep getting alerts of different flights and different hotel packages.

Lim was being targeted by a growing number of companies who track your actions on the web, then sell that information to the highest bidder immediately. It's called real-time advertising. And it's all done by computers.

Rebecca Lieb is an analyst at Altimeter group. She says that type of advertising is often cheaper and more effective than a display ad on a home page.

Rebecca Lieb: With the explosion of companies that are selling advertising in this space, it is growing considerably in popularity.

And information can be sold and resold to target you again and again. And that’s where ads start missing the mark. Remember, how Lim kept getting the ads for vacations even after she stopped looking?

Gordon Mcloud is the CEO of Krux, the company behind the tracking study.

Gordon Mcloud: There’s a whole daisy chain of collectors that are scraping data off websites.

So the next time you decide to looking online comparing dining room chairs, expect to be reminded of them for a very long time.

In San Francisco, I’m Queena Kim for Marketplace.

About the author

Queena Kim covers technology for Marketplace. She lives in the Bay Area.

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