[This article was contributed by Tom Owen]
Check your cookie list in your browser for cookies from imrworldwide.com --
if they're there, then the red sheriff is watching you.
You won't be alone.
For well over a year, vexed users have been popping up on the newsgroups,
in slashdot and on lists of all sorts with independent rediscoveries of
Unscientific sampling suggests that machines not owned by paranoid
technicians always have these cookies.
The web was not designed to make marketing easy.
Proxies and other caches mean that the server logs can dramatically undercount
page views and downloads.
Spiders and bots work the other way, but there's no reason to believe they
The users share and reuse their IP addresses,
you can't tell for certain what country they're in, and
they even lie to their own PCs.
Maybe M. Mouse is a legitimate name in Martinique,
and a birth date of 01/01/01 might just mean that you saw
first time round. But probably not.
Advertisers hate this.
They hate trusting the word of a site owner about page impressions, but
even when those numbers make sense they still don't know if the campaign is
reaching the target preteens,
or is being wasted on middle-aged tax consultants who just really like Britney.
Many of them prefer to stick with old media where they get respectable numbers
from the likes of
So the demand for better information is huge, and
there's a long history of attempts to get it:
The big accounts at the traditional end of the industry prefer to trust
and methods translated from broadcast media:
closely monitored sample panels,
surveys and focus groups.
That would be fine, but one thing that no-one has ever been able to do is
reconcile the numbers from these two approaches.
Redsheriff want to bridge that gap -- by making the whole internet their
Founded in Australia in 1996 as a research firm,
by 2001 Redsheriff was expanding into technical means.
Along the way, they picked up global ambitions and some serious
Martin Sorrel's advertising conglomerate.
Earlier website versions on the
couple horrifying wild-west copy with
fairly explicit information
about their offerings which is lacking from the current site.
And in fact they keep a lowish profile all round.
There are no secrets, but no fuss either and little interest in
It doesn't matter: the evidence is easy enough to gather.
Redsheriff client sites (try Selfridges)
drop or reference two main components:
This is all traditional cross-platform stuff.
It's certainly unusual to use an applet for this job and some users have been
but it means it'll work on anything: Mozilla, Opera, IE or that cool new
Redsheriff say they can report on movement within a flash site,
as well as use of non-client sites, and it looks as though these are jobs for
There doesn't seem to be an ActiveX component yet, but given MS's attitude
toward Java, this is
probably only a matter of time.
So far, Redsheriff knows many of the sites you visit from day to day and year
and within some of them they know the pages you look at.
This is a good start (for them), but technical means aren't enough: they
don't know who you are.
This next stage is probably what has piqued the interest of partners like
Taylor Nelson Sofres
What these buyers want is income, age, education, family status, and
gets it the easy way: by popping up a questionnaire with a chance of
winning some prize.
This questionnaire carries the client site branding,
but the data goes to the Redsheriff servers.
As a final touch, some percentage of the responses are qualified with
some identifying personal information will be held on the basis of the
target's consent implied when they filled in the survey.
Redsheriff is doing nothing all that weird, but the effect is still spooky.
Assuming their software and datacenter work right, they'll know largely
complete browsing histories
stretching over years for vast numbers of computers.
And if they can do the surveys right,
many of these histories will carry trustworthy demographic information and
many more will
be similar enough to have it inferred.
They can't quite equal a panel in joining up work and home browsing or
breaking out multi-use PCs
but their potential sample is so comprehensive they hardly care: the data are
going to make them big money.
If you don't want to be part of this database, it's easy to stop without
marring the browsing experience:
simply block third party cookies (erase any you have)
and don't run applets.
It's that easy. Maybe that's why they don't want the public gaze.
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