The Wall Street Journal is bringing some needed attention to the online privacy issue. Its series, 'What They Know' has detailed the buying, selling and trading of online data as the vast underlying economy driving online advertising. Much of it was portrayed as sinister, spying, or at least an invasion of privacy. To its credit, it included WSJ.com in its investigation, noting that the company installs, on average, 60 tracking files on a visitor's computer, placing it in a league on privacy with CNN and ESPN.com.
What's the WSJ using that data for? How about finding some new subscribers, whether they want to be found or not. Jason Lopatecki, an executive at TubeMogul, got a good look at WSJ's targeting practices when he visited the site to check out the price of a subscription and the newspaper followed him with its ads across the web on sites like Jeep Forum, Players, YouTube, SyFy and men's site The Rugged. He estimates he's been hit with at least 40 offers to subscribe since that visit, and sent us screen shots of seven of them.
Notably, the ads, served by Google's Content Network, didn't provide an obvious way to opt out, unlike some other aggressive campaigns, such as the Zappos ads served and targeted by Criteo.
Spokesperson Angela Huston said WSJ does re-target subscriber prospects and does cap the frequency of ads. "However," she said, "based on this user's experience, we are looking into how he may have been exposed to the number of ads he reports."