ADOTAS – I almost thought it was a joke when I first read it, that maybe some privacy advocates were trying to draw attention to publishers using IP tracking through a not-so-elaborate hoax. But it’s legit — this morning I received a refreshingly straightforward press release from IPfingerprint, the IP tracking service of multichannel British marketing firm Virtualnet Marketing:
“IPfingerprint is intelligent web software that tracks IP addresses of visitors to your website. These IP addresses form the basis of research to find out who the IP address belongs to, in addition the software marries this data up with the behaviour of their actions in visiting your website. The result is a marketing tool that not only tells you the names of businesses visiting your website, but an information tool that reports to you what pages they visited; what products or services they viewed and what they did next, even if what they did next was not contact you and to exit the website!”
It’s been a long and ugly debate over whether IP addresses constitute personally identifiable information (PII) — Germany, possibly the most vigilant of the data-privacy-advocating EU countries, has pretty much banned the practice. Rapleaf CEO Auren Hoffman wrote a forceful commentary on AdExchanger a while back arguing an IP address represents PII and that users should be anonymous on a website if they haven’t logged in.
(Of course, Rapleaf has felt the heat of the media spotlight for its use of actual names and email addresses in online profile building, but that’s another matter — the company doesn’t use IP tracking.)
But IPfingerprint and its parent company seem to be walking the finest line across the IP tracking fire pit as the service is aimed at B2B marketing. As a consultant explained to me in an email, IPfingerprint’s software uses a visitor’s IP address to identify that person combined with staff research on where the visitor came from.
The consultant further expounded:
“The software cannot give you any more information other than the company name, contact details and details on how they found a website (via search engines, direct or via a referring website). In addition, the software user panel allows clients to follow visitors in more detail with information on which pages they visited (which services/products they looked at) and how long they spent on the website pages. Also if via a search engine (either via organic search or pay per click), the exact phrases used to find the website are also listed per visitor.”
“As the data is non personal it does not break data protection rules,” Virtualnet emphasizes on its website. The IP tracking is used solely to identify the company the visitor is with.
On the other hand, U.S.-based B2B targeting specialist Bizo, which takes the cookie path and makes opting out as simple as clicking, segments site visitors via functional area within a company as well as seniority level. You can view the information in your Bizo cookie here — I finally made the executive level!
Right now IPfingerprint is offering a free 14-day trial. Does IPfingerprint’s use of IP tracking only to identify a visitor’s business skate around the PII issues inherent in IP tracking? In addition, I hope the company’s frank discussion of its services reignites the bigger debate over whether IP addresses should be considered PII.