When customers voluntarily share personal information with their favorite companies, they do so with the knowledge that these brands will do everything in their power to keep this data private. However, as each industry becomes increasingly more data-driven, many are now willing to glean insight in any way possible, regardless of consent. Though much information can now be tracked over social media, third-party gatherers have concocted methods for collecting customer data via first-party sites without compensation or permission in order to gain the competitive advantage.
According to Krux's "The State of Data Collection on the Web" study, third-party data collection across many leading websites continues at very significant levels while data collection via social media/sharing widgets has grown rapidly over the past year. This third-annual Cross Industry Study (CIS) of web data collection activity focuses on data collection and leakage trends and how these occurrences impact both the consumer and the first-party website. The survey annually monitors the top 50 ad-supported content sites, expanding its analysis to also include data from the top 100 e-commerce and marketer sites and 50 smaller content sites in 2013.
The following statistics highlight popular trends and observations within the data collection space, offering companies some insight into how sensitive information may have been breached, and what to be on the lookout for in the future:
- In 2013, 46 percent of data collection comes from higher-risk, up from 40 percent in 2012, raising the question as to which companies are mining the data, if that collection is fully sanctioned, and how that data will be used.
- Over time, the number of third-party data collectors continues to rise, up from 168 individual companies in 2011, to 300 in 2012, and 328 in 2013.
- While certain types of data collection methods, such as social media and sharing widgets (20 percent) and ad networks (15 percent), present a higher risk to consumers, many types, such as measurement and analytics (15 percent) and ad server and creative (15 percent) present a much lower data leakage risk.
- The average supply-side (SSP) collection dropped by 70 percent due to the increased use of frequency capping, server-to-server cookie matching, and other techniques.
- Social media and sharing widgets now represent 20 percent of all third-party data collection, drawing greatly on information gathered from sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. This form of data collection grew 30 percent since 2012.
- E-commerce (60 percent) and marketer (54 percent) sites experience a high proportion of third-party collection activity that is beyond their control, though content (66 percent) sites exhibit the highest proportion of third-party collection.
- Nearly 80 percent of all third-party activity on e-commerce and marketer sites stems from those company's media technology and service providers and partners.
Key takeaway: For websites across verticals-content, e-commerce, or marketer-anyone can see that first-party data carries extreme value. The information gleaned offers much insight into customer behavior and customer preference. But, just as the study notes that everyone has become their own publisher, researchers also highlight the importance of data protection as the cornerstone best practice when it comes to data governance for any Web-enabled enterprise. First-party companies gather this data with consumer permission, yet they often encounter third parties that extract this information without consent. Though these third parties typically operate beyond the control of the website's owner, companies must take every precaution necessary to maintain consumer trust, while also ensuring the best overall experience possible.