Quantcast joins the NAI? Uses flash cookies?

April 29, 2009

quantcastlogoQuantcast‘s analytics service has grown rapidly, giving them a footprint (and cookie access) across thousands of websites and 6 billion impressions per day.  They recently launched Quantcast Marketer, which promises advertisers “valuable demographic and interest-based insights about their customers as they are exposed to advertising and/or interact with content or functionality on brand sites.” (emphasis mine)

When I checked for an opt-out on Quantcast’s site earlier this year, I could not find one (even though Omniture and Nielsen offered them), so it was interesting to see that one is now available through their privacy policy page.  

quantcastmenuThe presentation of this opt-out is unusual. The first reference to an opt-out appears on the privacy policy page in a menu on the left, although on the same page there’s no mention of an opt-out in a long paragraph about cookies.  In that text, the only recommendation they offer is to manage cookies through your browser settings.  Also, the label “Opt-out of Quantcast Delivery” is strange (what’s being delivered?). When you click on the link, you get to a pretty standard looking opt-out console.

quantcastnaiIn fact, it looks just like all of the implementations that are collected at the NAI site, although Quantcast is not currently listed as an NAI member.

If I had to guess, I’d say that as Quantcast has moved from simple analytics and into more direct involvement in ad targeting, it has become logical to join the NAI.  To be in the NAI, you must offer an opt-out.  I suspect that this is still in testing, and the rest of the privacy disclosures are just a step behind. Here’s hoping that those are brought in line quicky and that Quantcast puts a prominent opt-out button on the top page of their site, in the true spirit of the NAI.

Now the critique:

First, the cookie itself does not have a name or text content that clearly identifies it as an opt-out cookie, so it’s hard for the user or researcher to feel assured that the opt-out has been effective. I am guessing that the operative cookie is on the quantserve domain and is called “qoo”, but I can’t be sure.

Second, based on trying this on two different machines, it looks like Quantcast is providing unique cookie text for each opt-out, in the form of a long number.  This is poor form, particularly since all the big players (like Google) have moved toward non-unique cookies that, due to their very non-uniqueness, cannot be used for tracking.

One last question for the folks at Quantcast:  tonight I also happened to find a Local Shared Object (flash cookie) on my machine from the quantserve.com domain.  Are you are using these for tracking or targeting purposes?  Will my opt-out be effective for the flash cookie as well?

In my humble opinion, it would be aggressive for Quantcast to use flash cookies for tracking, since consumers don’t understand them and they are difficult to find or remove (perhaps that’s the point). In any case, they aren’t mentioned in the Quantcast privacy policy, whereas browser cookies are discussed extensively.  Since the NAI principles are clear that flash cookies need to be explained as part of “clear and conspicuous” disclosure, we trust that this has already been considered by Charles Curran and his team in Quantcast’s NAI application process, and that appropriate disclosures are on the way.


One Response to “Quantcast joins the NAI? Uses flash cookies?”

  1. […] joins NAI + comments on the good, the bad and the interesting June 22, 2009 As mentioned here several weeks ago, Quantcast, which collects user information across thousands of sites, has […]

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