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Ziff Davis Secretly Paying Sites To Track Users

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the memo-this-user-knows-too-much dept.

Advertising 53

First time accepted submitter jonez450 writes "Times are tough in the advertising business. But PCMag publisher Ziff Davis has come up with a new plan to gain a competitive edge: Paying other tech sites $1 CPM to place tracking code on their sites in return for data about their users via JavaScript. The company is also offering free content in return, but the 'private' Ziff Davis Tech Co-Op doesn't want anyone to know what they are up to." Update: 09/15 13:32 GMT by T : Reader jbrodkin writes in with an appreciated correction: "Ziff Davis doesn't publish PC World. they do something called PC Mag. as a former IDG employee, I can tell you there is a difference ;-)" Story has been updated to reflect -- thanks.

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Better than Google Analytics (4, Informative)

ge7 (2194648) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408456)

It's a lot better offer than Google gives. In return to tracking all the users on your site, Google only gives you statistics about them. At the same time Google can track 95% of the internet - including slashdot.

Re:Better than Google Analytics (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37408470)

Not me, sorry.
NoScript is your friend.

Re:Better than Google Analytics (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37408572)

Don't forget the power of combining it with specific entries in the HOSTS file, as well as AdBlock+ and Greasemonkey scripts, allowing you to block the sites you don't want your computer visiting as well as clearing shit off websites that you don't have any interest in such as the facebook/twitter "I like this" links.

It's nice being able to 'take back the web' and filter out the noise from the signal.

Re:Better than Google Analytics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37409378)

I 3 the antisocial list for adblock

Re:Better than Google Analytics (4, Insightful)

royallthefourth (1564389) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408610)

They don't need to know about you personally to understand the demographic you belong to, that's all they really care about. They've got someone else to watch who has the same consumptive habits aside from NoScript. You're anonymous inside the aggregate or anonymous behind NoScript. They don't need to know about you personally to have a good idea about how you behave in the areas they care about.

It doesn't really matter unless you're a Muslim looking for a religious charity, and in that case it would be the state observing you, not ZD, and they have much better tools than the proliferation of some stupid JS.

Re:Better than Google Analytics (5, Insightful)

plover (150551) | more than 3 years ago | (#37409366)

Not quite. NoScript provides for the transparent absence of most third party trackers. Its users are really in "the blind spot" of these firms, as nobody is gathering complete metrics on their surfing habits. They can't.

You may want to assume that NoScript users behave in the same way as non-NoScript users in the same demographic, but you can't be sure. After all, most NoScript users are concerned about their privacy or dislike intrusive advertising, and are self-selected people who better understand browsers and technology. This places them in their own demographic. The average NoScript user is further along the educated axis, which generally translates to people with higher wages and more disposable income. It includes early adopters, technology trendsetters, family experts, business technical experts, etc. These are desirable customers, the exact sort of people they'd love to influence with marketing.

And what kind of things are they missing out on? They want to know where technically literate people go for information before making a purchase. Do they visit epinons, ConsumerReports, eBay, Google shopping, or Amazon reviews? Other sites? All of the above? Do they stick to the first page of Google results? Do they trust Amazon reviewers more than NewEgg reviewers? Do they prefer to shop by price, or to buy from retailers with higher reputations? That's information you can't get by looking at a single retailer's results. If you don't know how they got there, you don't know what factors to influence to get others to show up.

Ultimately the marketers are trying to understand what kinds of astroturfing they can get away with. NoScript makes their job much harder. And as long as they can't identify my abilities to spot SEO trickery, planted reviews, etc., it means I personally get results that are somewhat more honest to me, and are less biased by the marketing firms. At least that's what I'm choosing to believe at this time.

Re:Better than Google Analytics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37409458)

But NoScript won't protect you against SEO trickery or planted reviews...

Re:Better than Google Analytics (1)

plover (150551) | more than 3 years ago | (#37411298)

But NoScript won't protect you against SEO trickery or planted reviews...

Statistically it may help via the community. I consider myself to be a part of this demographic. I also consider myself "above average" in my ability to spot fake reviews and reviewers, and I dig deeper into search engine results than most people. I visit various kinds of sites before making a major purchase, sites that marketers aren't necessarily targeting today. I'm assuming (a very big assumption based on the one sample of "me") that people in my group are better at spotting planted reviews and identifying rigged search results.

I'm making another big assumption here, but I'm expecting that a significant fraction of people in my demographic who also make decisions in this way are also aware of NoScript, and are employing anti-tracking defenses. If both of these assumptions are true, fewer of the NoScript users are revealing their excellent sleuthing abilities to the analysis firms. That means my demographic's anti-SEO-trickery and anti-planted-review skills are being revealed to the marketers at a slower rate.

It's all statistics, of course. I have very smart friends who insist on using Safari or IE, and they say they don't care if they're tracked. I don't know if they've thought the anti-tracking issue all the way through to how it hurts them as consumers, or if they're too lazy to care, or if they've weighed the benefits of being tracked (there are benefits) and made their decisions accordingly.

Re:Better than Google Analytics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37409636)

That was very insightful.

Pshh (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 3 years ago | (#37411564)

obviously a bot.

Re:Better than Google Analytics (2)

Nyder (754090) | more than 3 years ago | (#37412474)

... The average NoScript user is further along the educated axis, which generally translates to people with higher wages and more disposable income. It includes early adopters, technology trendsetters, family experts, business technical experts, etc. These are desirable customers, the exact sort of people they'd love to influence with marketing.

...

Where did you exactly get this information? Seems to me, your making it up, to prove a point.

Of all the people I know that use NoScript, they are the lower income bracket, usually not college educated. They can't afford fast computers, and don't have "disposable" income. And yet they use NoScript. How do I know? Because I've taught them to. I took the time to show them the basics of keeping there computers safe, and most of them grasped the concept.

Now, the other people i know, that won't install NoScript, or turn it off, are the people that have money. They will buy new computers when theirs gets "too slow" and they like to have all the bling going because it makes them feel good, or something. But I don't care, because these are the people I make money off, by cleaning their systems out.

Granted, my views are of what I experience, but it is totally opposite of what you are claiming.

Re:Better than Google Analytics (1)

r_jensen11 (598210) | more than 3 years ago | (#37415094)

There are plenty of ways to track people that are on the server side instead of the client side, so noscript can't prevent everything

Re:Better than Google Analytics (2)

plover (150551) | more than 3 years ago | (#37430514)

Really? How many sites post IP addresses, cookies, and referrers of clients and URLs to a third party server for aggregate analysis? If I buy a FooWidget 2012 from Amazon, how do they find out that I read some positive reviews of FooWidget 2012 on slashdot before buying one? How do they know that I checked on ifixfoowidgets.com for the latest info on FooWidget reliability? Those sites are participating in omniture and google-analytics and quantcast and sitemeter and crazyegg. If they are doing it all server side, why do they still have these clunky external javascripts? Oh, right, because they aren't doing it server side.

I agree that there are technical ways to do this. But "Plenty of ways" does not mean that any of them are in use.

UGG how to identify true and false? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37409496)

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Re:Better than Google Analytics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37408744)

Sorry Bro, you too....
You are currently in your Mom's basement. Please pull up your pants.

MS Shill gets new handle (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37409882)

Remember, this story isn't about Google but the brand new Slashdoter got the FP and tries and steer the conversation that way. Is this how you want Slashdot to exist? PR companies with paid shills steering the conversation in every story? If you want your discussions back, help out theses shills and mod them down for being who they are and what they are trying to do. Ignore the quality of the point he is making and understand he is being paid to subtley suggest Google is bad. Are they bad? Maybe, but that's a topic for a discussion, not for a PR peon to tell us.

Outed again, time to run off and register a new handle.

ge7 (2194648)- newly registered ms shill
zget (2395308)- newly registered ms shill
cgeys - newly registered ms shill
boncho (sp?) - one of the main troll accounts
*x**y*y**x* (sp?)- newly registered ms shill

Ziff Davis doesn't publish PC World. (3, Informative)

jbrodkin (1054964) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408496)

PC World is published by IDG. Ziff Davis published PCMag.

Re:Ziff Davis doesn't publish PC World. (1)

lseltzer (311306) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408614)

Parent is correct. Admittedly this story is up to /. standards, but the editors should fix the post. Parent is wrong about "published". PCMag isn't in print anymore, but is still a busy web site [pcmag.com] . Disclosure: I have written for them for many years and run the Security Watch blog [pcmag.com] .

Re:Ziff Davis doesn't publish PC World. (1)

jbrodkin (1054964) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408676)

Parent is correct. Admittedly this story is up to /. standards, but the editors should fix the post. Parent is wrong about "published". PCMag isn't in print anymore, but is still a busy web site [pcmag.com] . Disclosure: I have written for them for many years and run the Security Watch blog [pcmag.com] .

Well, as an online writer I use the word publish to mean anything published online or in print. Hell, I read all my books on the Kindle now. Anyway, I used to write for IDG so I noticed the error right away.

Re:Ziff Davis doesn't publish PC World. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37412552)

Parent is wrong about "published". PCMag isn't in print anymore....

Better tell all those companies who create publications for the web (and yes, people do pay others to make PDF's for them) that they're not really publishing anything....

Re:Ziff Davis doesn't publish PC World. (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 3 years ago | (#37409274)

PC World is published by IDG. Ziff Davis published PCMag.

Confusingly, ZDNet isn't run by Ziff Davis either. (It's run by CNet, which is now owned by CBS).

I still appreciate Ziff Davis for one thing: In the days before the WWW or even Minesweeper, when things got boring at work, a good way to kill time was to grab a copy of PCWeek from the break room. I could spend a good part of a morning reading it cover to cover.

(Of course, times have changed, and now everyone can kill time by posting their very own pontifications for the world to see.)

"via JavaScript" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37408498)

"on their sites in return for data about their users via JavaScript. "

Is there anyone left who blindly runs code from random sites on their machine? That's pretty much a stupid thing to do these days. It isn't just tracking, it can even end up with malware on windows machines.

So given that a person is smart enough to use their computer in a semi-safe manner and not run random crap that random web pages want them to run, this tracking is not a threat.

Re:"via JavaScript" (1)

ge7 (2194648) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408510)

"on their sites in return for data about their users via JavaScript. "

Is there anyone left who blindly runs code from random sites on their machine?

Like 99% of people? And no, even I won't put up with all that shit with NoScript.

Re:"via JavaScript" (1)

royallthefourth (1564389) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408652)

Heh, lookit all you lusers running code on websites.

*misses the entire last decade worth of innovation in web design*
*having never experienced them, fails to understand the significance of web applications*

Re:"via JavaScript" (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408556)

So what happens when Ziff Davis pays your favorite website to not just link Ziff's code, but host it themselves?

Re:"via JavaScript" (1)

Pieroxy (222434) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408752)

Then they won't get the cookie they set in my browser when I was visiting another site, so they'll have a hard time figuring out who I am.

Re:"via JavaScript" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37416174)

Your user agent string (and IP range) makes you (or your computer) pretty much unique.

Re:"via JavaScript" (1)

Pieroxy (222434) | more than 3 years ago | (#37417582)

You forget all the corporate people, browsing from work, with their unique IP (proxy for the company) and same browser (corporate install).

For the home users, they'll just get down to an IP, not knowing if the same user or another one of the same household is there.

Overall it's just an approximation and it is much less precise than getting back a cookie set on another site.

Sign up page? (1)

kyrio (1091003) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408500)

How do I sign up? I want to make money from doing no work.

Re:Sign up page? (1)

royallthefourth (1564389) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408672)

I assure you, making a website that gets enough visitors to buy even a pack of beer per month using this method takes plenty of work.

Re:Sign up page? (1)

kyrio (1091003) | more than 3 years ago | (#37416754)

Not really, with the amount of uniques I get on my sites I'd be able to get a few cases of beer every month.

two words (2, Informative)

madbavarian (1316065) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408558)

chromium + ghostery

Re:two words (1)

marmoset (3738) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408898)

Not just Chromium — Ghostery works on pretty much every browser.

Re:two words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37414174)

Whoever modded this guy offtopic is an idiot.

There is no -1 I don't understand and there is no -1 I disagree.

stupid comment (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37408570)

Were /. privvy to this offer?

only club of some of the best tech sites

probably not, ho ho ho

My question is... (2)

Jawnn (445279) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408592)

...where is the marketing value in tracking the demographic band that covers people too witless to block such things (cookies, random javascript, etc.). Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that value is there. I'm just intrigued by what one would do with it. Surely the marketing people for that publisher realize that they've built in that demographic skew through... Oh, right. "Marketing" people...

Re:My question is... (4, Insightful)

six025 (714064) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408632)

...where is the marketing value in tracking the demographic band that covers people too witless to block such things (cookies, random javascript, etc.).

They are the perfect target for such marketing. The type of user more likely to purchase an off-the-shelf solution, rather than "roll-your-own" ;)

Peace,
Andy.

Re:My question is... (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408640)

That's the most valuable demographic. The dim-witted are easy marks.

Re:My question is... (5, Funny)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408650)

...where is the marketing value in tracking the demographic band that covers people too witless to block such things

We call them "politicians."

Politicians call them "voters."

The general public calls them "What are you talking about?"

The web sites call them "revenue."

The advertisers call them "warm bodies with wallets."

The regulators call them "... zzzZZZzzz ... Huh? What are you talking about? ... zzzZZZzzz ..."

Re:My question is... (1)

kermidge (2221646) | more than 3 years ago | (#37410116)

First good laugh today. Thanks!

Re:My question is... (3, Insightful)

Riceballsan (816702) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408748)

The demographic of people too witless or lazy to block, would be almost everybody except a handful of geeks and tinfoil hats. We are in a world where over 40% still use IE despite it being clearly inferior and more work then the alternatives. Noscript is still a pain to use, so we are still looking at a handful of people who actually use it. The bottom line is the 1% that they are leaving off also, is most likely the least likely to be influenced by marketing percentage on earth. Geeks tend to look for things when they need or want them without being influenced by a comercial, they tend to then search for the closest thing to an unbiased review they can find before purchasing, thus making them not the wisest use of marketing dollars to waste time targetting, and the tinfoils, well they probably think the products being advertised are government mind control rays.

Re:My question is... (1)

bishopBelloc (1751712) | more than 3 years ago | (#37409610)

That reminds me...
Does anyone know where I can find unbiased reviews of government mind control rays?

noscript! (1)

mayberry42 (1604077) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408600)

Wow, good thing I use NoScript to block all incoming JavaScript crap and just whitelist the sites i trust. I would recommend others to do the same (and no, i am in no way affiliated with the firm).

The only problem with NoScript et. al. (1)

Red_Chaos1 (95148) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408658)

Is that so many sites are so cross scripted/integrated these days that sometimes you have to allow places you otherwise wouldn't in order for content to display. Nobody hosts their own content these days, esp. media.

Re:The only problem with NoScript et. al. (1)

tick-tock-atona (1145909) | more than 3 years ago | (#37409742)

Use RequestPolicy instead. It allows control of cross-site requests with domain-level granularity. So only sites you trust are able to gain access to domains like amazonaws.com, akamai.net etc. It basically has the same features as Noscript's ABE, but is much easier to use.

https://www.requestpolicy.com/ [requestpolicy.com]

Not all that secret (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37408670)

I've been on a few(!) of their mailing lists which after a year or so of bullshyte from them I clicked the link to 'unsubscribe' (this is on Yahoo, important to note) and yet they still show up in my inbox. Most spam I block on Yahoo dies pretty quickly. When I 'unsubscribed' from ZD news my incoming spam blossomed a thousandfold at least.

Yahoo still blocks most spam pretty well, but they refuse to block ZD spam. I've made the mistake of reporting it directly to ZD, and I've also written Yahoo directly. It still comes into my inbox, I mark it as spam every day.

Meh, it's my anonymous email address, could be worst crap coming in...

So what? (2)

Dynamoo (527749) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408690)

Seriously.. so what? Plenty of sites out there collect analytics in this way, often only in exchange for access to that data (e.g, Google Analytics, Quantcast). ZD's offering is only notable because they are prepared to pay for it, which will certainly give them a leg-up in the market.

I think this is harmless. What is worse is those ad networks (you know the ones I am talking about) that regularly allow tainted ads onto their networks. Or sites that don't patch WP, PHP or other installations properly. The list goes on.

What's the difference? Same Game, new names (1)

Kamiza Ikioi (893310) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408746)

What's the difference if say:

A) You go to a site, and its privacy policy says, "we collect anonymous data and sell it to advertisers".
B) Same thing, except the advertiser collects it directly.

These sites that are willing to sell the data are, surprise surprise, already collecting it. But rather than selling it out as a CD set, they will sell a direct pipeline.

The names have changed, but the game's the same.

Re:What's the difference? Same Game, new names (1)

Kamiza Ikioi (893310) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408756)

Crap, I just realized I just lost. :( But so have you. :)

Doesn't want anyone to know what they are up to... (1)

3seas (184403) | more than 3 years ago | (#37408830)

Well I think they can now forget that idea.... Lets slashdot it...

They've publicly announced this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37408964)

...it is called BuyerBase and they aren't the only ones in the market doing it. Take a look at BlueKai or Exelate for much broader examples.

Fuck Ziff Davis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37409138)

Ziff David is one of the most corrupted and evil publishers in the industry. The fuck over everybody who isn't in upper management repeatedly. Making money is their bottom line and they'll break any law to do so. They routinely plagiarize work from other publications and "free" material on the Internet.

Can't wait to see those assholes go out of business.

:fistshake: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37411306)

Bring back EGM!

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