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Rapleaf Offers Discomforting But Valuable Insight Into Data Marketplace Mechanics

Written on
May 16, 2011 
Author
Gavin Dunaway  |

ADOTAS – In the behavioral targeting family, Rapleaf is kind of like that creepy uncle you invite to your wedding as a courtesy, but then avoid him like the plague at the reception lest he corner you and explain the benefits of his favorite sexual lubricant.

Theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with Rapleaf’s approach to gathering information for audience segmentation, it’s just a different approach that doesn’t sit all that well in the public’s stomach. And then Rapleaf doesn’t do its reputation any favors when it mines its data pool to figure out the grocery-buying habits of Google employees vs. Microsoft employees.

However, Rapleaf’s latest public appearance is courtesy of Forbes, which got its hands on the pricing data for segmentation data. It’s an eye-opener, but not because of the initial squeamishness.

Data Pricing From Rapleaf

A little background: As The Wall Street Journalexposed” last fall, Rapleaf uses actual names and email addresses to build profiles of Internet users with online and offline third-party data (e.g., voter registration). Businesses that want a better picture of their client base can submit email addresses and receive demographic breakdowns based on Rapleaf’s profiles. It’s first-party data — the business already has the email, so no one is buying or selling the address. Said business got your email when you purchased a product, signed up for a newsletter, etc.

Rapleaf also uses its profile data to build anonymous targeting cookies with segmented by demographic (as we used to say in AOL chat rooms, A/S/L — age, sex and location) as well as “interests, lifestyle, household details, and online influence,” according to the company’s privacy policy. However, the pricing chart above isn’t to related to that.

Kudos to Forbes writer Kashmir Hill for commenting that there’s nothing shocking about this data being collected or sold. Instead, she quips, “What may surprise you is how insultingly cheap the intimate details of your life are.”

A penny to find out if I have a premium credit card? Three cents to know whether I prefer luxury brands? I feel so undervalued.

Data collection for marketing purposes is nothing new, but Internet data collection has made the process far more transparent, giving the public a potentially unwanted intimate view of the mechanics of marketing. Compare staring at the chart above to visiting a slaughterhouse — you can easily opt out of Rapleaf’s database just like you can choose to become a vegetarian.

However, we shouldn’t be “shocked- SHOCKED!” about Rapleaf’s data arbitrage because the company is merely systemic of the major data leaks. Last week AdMantX’s J. Brooke Aker noted this line on his bank statement: “Financial companies choose how they share your personal information. Federal law gives consumers the right to limit some but not all sharing.”

Where do you think a lot of Rapleaf’s purchasing information comes from? At least Rapleaf lets you opt out of their database.

It’s actually kind of amazing how transparent Rapleaf is about its practices. Despite the media pointing at it and shouting, “Ewww, gross!” Rapleaf is forcing the public to examine the consumer data marketplace, warts and all, and in effect giving us a better understanding of how this typically clandestine space operates.

So thanks for sharing Uncle Rapleaf. See you at the next wedding/funeral.





Gavin Dunaway is Editor, U.S. at AdMonsters, a leading trade publication, event producer and service provider for the online advertising industry. Previously, he had been Senior Editor of Adotas, where he arrived after years of ping-ponging around various industry publications. This Washington, D.C. native and George Mason University graduate also enjoys playing electric guitar so loud that the walls shake.

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