Visitors to conservative pundit Ann Coulter’s web site should prepare to be aggressively tracked by advertisers, according to a spreadsheet listing the cookies and tracking pixels on her site, which was sent to us by an advertising industry source.The source asked not to be named, but said that a “reasonable” number of cookies and pixles on a mainstream media site would be 10-15. (Cookies and pixels are tiny bits of software that web sites use to track your web browser, help with logins, and to allow advertisers to target users based on their history of browsing.)
Coulter, however, allows as many as 164 cookies and pixels from more than 57 companies, our source tells us. We tweeted at Coulter to see if she has a comment. We’ll update this item if she responds.
The source said in an email:
We subscribe to a service that tells us when some of the top couple thousand websites add new retargeting partners. We happened to see “anncoulter.com” show up on the tracking for the first time on Jan 18th 2013.
Upon visiting, I have seldom seen as many pixels firing and cookies being set as I did on this site, and some of the names of these pieces of code reveal a little bit about what is going on – “Republican Party Mobilization”. It looks like the visitors to her site are being sold out six ways from Sunday, and retargeted, shared, and whatever all over the web so that conservatives can be found and remarketed to ceaselessly. All kinds of swapping of unique user IDs etc. over 57 companies and hundreds of calls.
For comparison, RachelMaddow.com (the site of the liberal MSNBC host) had zero cookies. The New York Times has 10 and Business Insider has 12, on the day our source looked at all four sites.
To be fair to Coulter, her site is doing nothing wrong. There’s nothing sinister about offering your inventory to every available network. But it suggests her inventory isn’t managed well — everyone is welcome to buy on it, regardless of how low quality the clients or the bids are. (Two current clients are weight loss companies, for instance.) There tends to be an inverse relationship between the quality of a site’s audience and the number of pixels and cookies firing from it. Publishers whose content is highly desired limit the number of buyers to only the most high-quality bidders.
Our source said a virtual “who’s who of ad tech” were at work on AnnCoulter.com. Among the names of the devices tracking Coulter fans are (emphasis added):
You can download a PDF of the full file here, but here’s a sample of the list:
Accuen Media 1
AdTech (adserver) 3
Aggregate Knowledge 1
Google Analytics 1
InviteMedia (Google) 3
IXI Corporation 2
Lijit (Federated Media) 1
MIG (Media Innovation Group) 3
Pulpo Media 1
Right Media (Yahoo!) 4
Rubicon Project 15
Scorecard Research (comScore) 2
Tacoda (AOL) 1
Editors note: Intermarkets, the advertising sales management firm for AnnCoulter.com, disagrees with our story. Their response is below:
“As the advertising sales management firm for AnnCoulter.com, we are writing in response to your article entitled “Ann Coulter has Hundreds of User-Tracking Devices on Her Website Right Now” – which is a deeply flawed article.
Given that The Business Insider was launched by two founders of DoubleClick, one of the earliest known online advertising network providers, we expected more online advertising savvy out of this publication. We are troubled that your story entitled, “Ann Coulter has Hundreds of User-Tracking Devices on Her Website Right Now” grossly overestimates the amount of so-called “tracking” used by the website and fails to reflect the mechanisms that are provided to safeguard viewer privacy. Intermarkets deeply respects viewer privacy, and we do our best to balance personal privacy while still generating sufficient revenue for Ms. Coulter to provide 24-7-365 Web content at no cost to viewers.
Even more concerning, neither Intermarkets nor Ms. Coulter were given an opportunity to respond to these allegations before the story was published, other than a one-off Twitter “tweet” to Ms. Coulter. In rapid-fire online news cycles, we expect that neither Intermarkets nor Ms. Coulter may not get a pre-publication opportunity to review and respond to every media account. But this is not a typical story; the factual allegations contained within your article are attributed to an anonymous source. It is impossible for us to verify the legitimacy of your source’s allegations without knowing: who provided the source material, how your source defined the term “tracking,” what software your source used to examine the supposed “trackers,” and where your source is geographically located.
Simply put, we were not given an opportunity to tell our story, and an inaccurate account of our online advertising portfolio – that cannot be precisely replicated – has been released in the public ether.
However, we applaud a recent report from the EvidonTM Blog, “Business Insider Exposes Tracking by Ann Coulter, Misrepresents its own Tracking in the Process.”1 We agree that simply counting cookies does not give an accurate picture of a website’s privacy practices. Instead, we monitor the number of unique companies that receive data from AnnCoulter.com. As the story reports and we can verify, this number is 46, not hundreds. In fact, we were surprised to learn from the EvidonTM Blog that Business Insider itself uses technology from 164 separate companies – over three times the amount on AnnCoulter.com.”
Read the rest of Intermarket’s response here.
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