Adtegrity builds profiles of Web surfers

People in the hi-tech sector love to say that information is the most valuable commodity out there. For the average surfer, the more personal information you divulge the more you stand to win, or potentially lose. Inc., a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company that connects Web site publishers with banner advertisers, has joined with Chicago-based nCognito Interactive Services to create anonymous demographic information on people who surf sites on the network. The information can be used by the individual sites to adjust content according to user demographics or be shown to outside advertisers to justify the costs of advertising on the network of sites served by Adtegrity.

Visitors to any of the Adtegrity-linked sites can fill out a user profile with no name or e-mail address attached. The company, which now serves 70 sites, acts as an advertising representative for each site in order to sell ad space. Companies wanting to place ads can choose to target individual sites or the entire network.

“There are different classes of people out there,” said Scott Olechowski, president of nCognito, explaining why some people divulge information about themselves. “There are some people who are really into sweepstakes, it appears that they will sign up for anything. It is amazing, but it is a very successful tactic.”

Users can also decline to fill out the survey yet still be able to access any site on the network, according to the company. A cookie will be sent to the browsers of users unwilling to dole out personal information to identify that it is not necessary to ask them again, according to Michael Struyk, vice-president of technology and operations at Adtegrity.

got to play to win

But to win any of company’s prizes, ranging from DVD players to a weekend for two at a fighter pilot camp, you must fill out the forms.

The information you choose to divulge varies. One profile created gave little more information than that the user was a Canadian resident who accessed the site from a public library, while others can be extremely detailed and include such information as a user’s postal code, income level and ethnicity.

“We can then start to provide to Adtegrity, and their sites, a much better picture of what type of audience is using the sites and how they are using it,” Olechowski said.

“Our ad systems will track all the information for you and then we go out to the advertisers to show them who is visiting this Web site,” Struyk added.

He further explained that one of the company’s value propositions is that they don’t automate the system that takes care of ad rotations, as is the case with larger ad networks. It is a personal touch, Struyk said. Staff match-up ad campaigns to Web sites and monitor them during the day to make sure they can maximize revenue for a site.

privacy is the key

“It is not always in [every company’s] best interest to share or disclose how they are going to use information that is being shared and I think that has got a lot of sites into trouble and scared a lot of consumers,” Olechowski said.

This is why, according to both companies, they take the privacy issue seriously.

“I think, as an industry, globally, we all need to be concerned about making sure that we respect that information, disclose how it is going to be used and hold true to those disclosures and let users have control over that information,” he continued.

Users are at the mercy of the privacy laws of the land they visit and, unlike the real world, we are often unsure where a dot-com is located. For now, an American company operating solely in the U.S. answers only to the rules of that nation.

“If you are dealing with [an American] company that has no presence in Canada, you are probably stuck, largely because there is very little law in the United States on this sort of thing. There is a kind of patchwork of state and federal laws, nothing comprehensive to date,” said Heather Black, a lawyer with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner in Ottawa.

As of Jan. 1, that will change in Canada. That is when Bill C-6, now called the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, becomes law for federally-regulated sectors such as banking, air travel and telecommunications.

“The information [that the company] now has, unless they have your consent to do something else with it, they can only use it for the purposes of the transaction that you are engaged in,” Black said. If a company wants to do anything else with the information, including marketing its new products to you, it has to get your permission, she explained. “This is across the board, the law does not only apply in the electronic world.”

Adtegrity plans on having the nCognito technology integrated into its services by the beginning of September.

Adtegrity ( costs vary, from US$10 to US$20 per thousand ads. Adtegrity in Grand Rapids, Mich., is at (616) 245-5217. nCognito ( in Chicago is at (773) 205-6403.