Shadowy Data Matching Revealed in Graphic

Everyone who has followed me for any length of time knows that I generally despise “infographics.” They’re often sloppy about data. They tend to be visually cluttered and difficult to read. And they’re typically cynically created for SEO purposes.

However I like the Hubspot infographic below, even though it’s quite dense. It illustrates the shadowy world of data matching and trolling that goes on behind the scenes. Consumers have some vague high-level understanding this is going on but are ignorant of its extent, depth or precision.


My view is that several things need to happen in the market. To date “self-regulation” hasn’t worked. There probably now needs to be regulatory or legislative pressure to generate exposure and disclose of third party data sharing practices. Consumers must also be given some way to more directly participate, control or opt-out of this system (current “ad choices” is inadequate). In addition offline data collection and brokering must be brought into the discussion and made more visible as well.

Transparency and some measure of consumer control is the conceptual solution to the cat and mouse game of tracking and data brokering. Even though this Congress is incapable of passing legislation some form of regulation or legal action is coming around these issues. It will probably happen at the state level and/or via the FTC, creating uneven regulations and difficulty for all.

It would be better for the IAB, 4As and industry groups to come together and advocate true transparency.

Consumers will participate in data-sharing schemes if they have an understanding of how the data are used and they receive some benefit in return (personalization, convenience, offers, etc). However some of these practices would absolutely be shunned and condemned if consumers more knew about them.

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4 Responses to “Shadowy Data Matching Revealed in Graphic”

  1. Jason Lancaster says at

    First, I can’t help but chuckle at the fact that Hubspot – which markets a system that tracks customers at a level not easily achieved without their platform (or one similar) – has the audacity to paint data brokers as nefarious.

    Second, the fact that graphics like this exist proves that data brokers – and online marketers in general – have done a piss-poor job of explaining how “big data” makes for lower advertising costs and could eventually lead us all to a point where we collectively see far fewer ads than we do now.

    Finally, I think it’s the height of irresponsibility to portray this sort of thing as “shadowy.” A thing that isn’t well understood or commonly discussed isn’t inherently suspect – it just means that a lot of people don’t know about it. Instead of complimenting Hubspot for doing consumers a disservice here by painting an entire industry as scummy, you should be scolding them.

    After all, you use Google Analytics on this site (I checked your source) – that makes you part of the problem. πŸ™‚

  2. Greg Sterling says at

    “Second, the fact that graphics like this exist proves that data brokers – and online marketers in general – have done a piss-poor job of explaining how β€œbig data” makes for lower advertising costs and could eventually lead us all to a point where we collectively see far fewer ads than we do now.”

    Precisely. My whole point is that the data ecosystem has not been explained — many don’t want consumers to know much about it or how it works — and that’s what makes it “shadowy.” I’m calling for transparency and an explanation of benefits to consumers.

    The “industry” has taken a very paternalistic attitude, which you appear to share to some degree, toward consumers. “We’re making the web better for them . . . they don’t need to know more.” Consumers, whose data is being used — in fact is sold to marketers by companies such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook — need to have some understanding of how these data are collected and used and the ability to exercise some control over the process.

    Under many circumstances consumers will voluntarily participate in that process. However, many companies fear transparency or a candid conversation about “big data” with their users because they instinctively feel that consumers will balk and their ability to run their businesses will be diminished or curtailed by externally imposed restrictions. Thus they don’t discuss it honestly and yet it all proceeds in the background. The availability of HH matching with smartphones, media channels, in-store sales and other behaviors is now truly astonishing.

    Ironically “the industry” makes regulation and government intervention more likely by failing to have a real discussion about privacy and data with the end user public. They don’t really want to talk about it — forget T&Cs and “ad choices.” Nobody reads T&Cs and yet that’s where the disclosures are made — buried in fine print in paragraph 16. That’s why it’s “shadowy.”

    Survey after survey reflects the public’s growing concern about data usage, tracking and online privacy. It’s hardly the “height of irresponsibility” to highlight that or suggest that data brokers and ad platforms need to be more transparent and forthcoming.

  3. Jason Lancaster says at

    I disagree that paternalism, eg “Don’t worry about it – just trust us” is at work. The problems are:

    1. There’s little incentive for businesses to explain or disclose the specifics of what they’re doing…why would I take the time to teach random strangers about tracking technologies? I’ve got work to do.

    2. The lawyers have made it impossible to have a conversation. If you read the terms of service for Facebook carefully, you’d be able to discern how they’re using data. The problem is, it’s impossible to read that agreement because legal has made it illegible.

    3. You can’t lambaste “the industry” for failing to disclose how things work on one hand, then compliment Hubspot’s misleading infographic. What they’ve done is muddy the waters, and you’re furthering their bad action.

    The fact is that the vast, vast, VAST majority of “big data” is being used in a logical and wholesome manner that benefits society. Hubspot’s infographic uses imagery that makes big data look evil, and that’s simply not fair.

    Our job as people in the industry is to paint a fair picture as best we can. Your decision to compliment Hubspot’s action here is a step in the wrong direction. Or at least that’s my opinion. The last word is yours. πŸ™‚

  4. Greg Sterling says at

    I totally reject your charges of hypocrisy. All I said was I liked the inforgraphic because it showed lots of information about a subject that people have only a vague understanding of. I’m in no way “complimenting” or otherwise endorsing anything that Hubspot is or does.

    I think most people fall into one of two data-mining/privacy camps the “there aren’t really an privacy issues . . . we should be allowed to do as we please . . . we’re supporting free content” group, promoting data mining/aggregation, and those that blindly and hysterically argue all data aggregation and tracking are evil. I’m in neither group. I do have a balanced view.

    See e.g.,

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