Business Technology

Tuesday 17 January 2017

Privacy fears as firm tracks us all online

Stephen Foley in New York

Published 28/06/2011 | 05:00

A BRITISH advertising company claims to have built the world's largest database of individuals' internet behaviour, which it says will track "almost 100pc" of the UK and Ireland's population.

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The announcement plunges WPP into the middle of the privacy debate. The company said it was pooling data from many of the world's major websites, networks of online advertisers and even sources following what people are buying in high street stores.

FTSE 100-listed WPP, founded and run by the British businessman Martin Sorrell, is one of the most powerful advertising companies in the world, and its clients include some of the most famous global brands.

Many are providing WPP with data about visitors to their websites as part of the company's new database venture, called Xaxis.

"We are supporting the broader internet economy by improving the targeting of ads, while also playing by the strictest privacy rules," said Brian Lesser, chief executive of Xaxis. It has built individual profiles of 500 million internet users across the world.

Privacy campaigners have warned against the concentration of so much data about individuals, even though WPP insisted the information had been "anonymised".

"Knowing the pattern of websites you go to makes it very easy to identify you," said John Buckman, chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "The greatest problem with data gathering is not from the people gathering it, but where it goes afterwards. When the cat is out the bag, you can't put it back in." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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