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Online Tracking: Your Data Is Being Packaged, Sold, Repackaged and Resold

Digital ads are becoming noticeably more targeted and this is due to the fact that consumer data has become big business. Online consumer data is disassembled, repackaged, sold and then re-sold again as inventory. Online browsing habits are big business and this repackaged data has become the lubricant for the online advertising ecosystem.

Online advertising has become extremely sophisticated, particularly within social media. For example, on Mother’s Day I was served two in-roll ads in my LinkedIn news feed. One was from Unilever congratulating me for being a mother and the other was from Cartier highlighting a beautiful rose gold watch, which would be a noticeable upgrade from my old “Tank Anglaise”. How did the cyber gnomes know that the clasp had been sticking and it was time to get a new one? Perhaps they didn’t know that, but they knew a women’s Cartier watch would be a good fit for me and they knew that I am a mother. How was my data synthesized to become an actionable insight?

Online consumer’s movements are being tracked by third-party scripts and then sold on to data providers who process it and then create thousands of segments like “relationship status”, “age group”, “ethnicity” and “annual income”. These data segments can then be sold on again on a cost-per-mille (CPM) basis to demand-side platforms (DSPs), supply-side platforms (SSPs), ad networks and other data management platforms (DMPs). As it’s being repackaged and resold and repackaged and resold again, the data begins to be dissociated from its original form, but in theory it should start looking like a specific customer segment.

Some consumers may see this as a benefit as we are being delivered more accurate online ads. For others it may seem like an invasion of personal space. But once a user logs into the Internet, their personal space is no longer theirs as they are part of a wider cyber world and tracking is par for the course.

Greta Paa-Kerner is a course director for the Chartered Institute of Marketing. She is also an independent marketing consultant and a senior lecturer at Bucks Business School. Visit her website at

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