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September 11, 2008

Yahoo updates IndexTools terms & conditions

safe Yahoo is not letting the grass grow under its feet with its integration of IndexTools. Today IndexTools partners received an e-mail from Yahoo informing them of a change to the terms & conditions of the service, which need to be agreed to by October 15 in order to retain access to IndexTools.

The e-mail calls out a change to the Ts & Cs which require IndexTools partner customers (i.e. the site owners themselves) to place the following (or equivalent) language on their websites (my highlighting):

“Third-Party Web Beacons: We use third-party web beacons from Yahoo! to help analyze where visitors go and what they do while visiting our website. Yahoo! may also use anonymous information about your visits to this and other websites in order to improve its products and services and provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having this information used by Yahoo!, click here.”

Yahoo goes on to say that it will be auditing client sites and will disable accounts where this verbiage has not been included on the site (I wonder how effective this will be in practice - it may just be sabre-rattling).  Partners and client sites have until October 15 to comply.

The comment from the IndexTools partner who forwarded on this information was that it would be a challenge for their clients to implement this - from a logistical perspective, if nothing else. But I can understand Yahoo's move here - part of the benefit of a company like Yahoo (or Microsoft, or Google) offering a web analytics service is the secondary use of the resulting data for ad targeting purposes (something that Yahoo is very good at).

For comparison, here is (a shortened version of) the paragraph that Google requests its customers insert onto their sites:

“[...]  Google Analytics uses “cookies”, which are text files placed on your computer, to help the website analyze how users use the site. [...] Google will use this information for the purpose of evaluating your use of the website, compiling reports on website activity for website operators and providing other services relating to website activity and Internet usage.  Google may also transfer this information to third parties where required to do so by law, or where such third parties process the information on Google's behalf. Google will not associate your IP address with any other data held by Google. [...]  By using this website, you consent to the processing of data about you by Google in the manner and for the purposes set out above.”

This wording does not seem to imply that Google will reuse the data for other purposes, including ad targeting (IANAL, however); though Google did introduce some reuse of data (and some options for controlling it) with their data sharing feature that they launched back in March.

The corresponding paragraph from adCenter Analytics is:

Microsoft may retain and use user data subject to the terms of the Microsoft privacy statement and publish in aggregate or average form such information in combination with information collected from others’ use of adCenter Analytics except that Microsoft will not disclose to any third parties any user data collected by adCenter Analytics from your websites in a manner that (i) contains or reveals any personally-identifiable information or (ii) is specifically attributable to you or your websites.

The Microsoft privacy statement does say that we may use the information we collect to deliver services, "including personalized content and advertising".

So Yahoo is not doing anything here that hasn't been done before; and, as I've said several times before, you can't expect a company to provide a free web analytics service of the quality of IndexTools and not attempt to monetize it in some way. What is a little different about Yahoo's approach, though, is that it's taking a sterner line on actual implementation of the data reuse language, and actually threatening to disable accounts where the wording hasn't been added. This implies that Yahoo anticipates that it may need to defend its usage of this data (at least from a PR perspective), and wants to ensure that it can point to this wording on any site that uses IndexTools, so that users can't complain that their behavior data is being reused without their consent.

[Update 9/11/08: Added a reference to Google data sharing]

[Update 9/12/08: Corrected IndexTools' name - duh]

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