Saturday, January 26, 2013

Real Time Bidding; Auctioning off Your Cookies


Real Time Bidding: Auctioning off Your Cookies

Have you ever paid much attention to the ads that pop up on your computer while you are browsing, and thought WOW! That’s crazy, I was just looking at that car, watch, website…. etc and now there’s an ad!? What a coincidence! However, in the case of online advertising there is no such thing as a coincidence. Its real time bidding: a sneaky and brilliant technology. Nearly 97% of American internet users are subjected to Real Time Bidding (RTB) every single day [1]. For many people it is considered an invasion of privacy and but for most its not considered at all, as they are unaware of it's existence and the powerful role it plays in our online clicking and buying.

What is it?
The goal of RTB is to ensure that a company's ads are seen by the consumers that are most likely to respond; Hence increasing their sales [3]. But how do they know?  Information such as topics you Google, sites you visit often, ads you click on, and the cookies from websites you've visited that are stored on your computer are collected by companies, such as BlueKai, and then the fastest auction ever occurs. It is a relatively simple concept with not-so-simple algorithms that enables advertisers to bid on the advertising space on the web page your are looking at within 100 milliseconds!  

Check out this video from Google for a pretty simple explanation. [5]

This is how explains it:

Here’s a simplistic example of how real-time bidding (RTB) would work in the real world: A user spends a lot of time on financial websites, checking stocks and looking up Morningstar ratings. They arrive on a webpage that uses Real-Time Bidding to serve ads. On the back end, a major financial services provider has specified that they are interested in users that like stocks. A luxury carmaker has also indicated interest in this audience. The RTB system matches these advertisers with the user profile and they bid on the ad.  Whoever has the highest bid wins, and their ad gets served. [2]

Advertisers love it, by 2017 revenues generated from RTB will be more than $7 Billion! [6]; but lets also consider the people whose cookies are being auctioned off, and how to control what information about you is out there.

Controlling your Online Identity

Jeffery Rosen from the New York Times wanted to test his online presence and he did so with a very simple experiment. First he cleared the cookies from his two internet browsers. Secondly, he started creating two very different Jeffs; 1) Republican Jeff and 2) Democrat Jeff. He did this by spending time on such sites as Mitt Romney's campaign site on one browser, as well as Obama's re-election site on another browser. He then ventured off to his favorite websites within days the ads on the site had changed to reflect the browsing history of that specific browser! See the Full Article
The work of Real Time Bidding! 

Some may find this a little creepy and intrusive to your privacy. For those that feel this way there are a few things you can do. One being as easy as clearing your cookies in your browser often, and another would be by either to Register or Opt Out with BlueKai (an online big data marketing service that provides 1st and 3rd party information) This is not the only company out there that does this but it’s a great place to start. Registering allows consumers to see what information is being logged by 3rd party sources. 

In Conclusion

Real Time Bidding is a tremendously powerful tool that is here to stay. So, you can either take the time to manage it, as mentioned above, or accept the fact that your browsing history and cookies are out there at the disposal of the highest bidder. 


[1] Singer, Natasha. "Your Online Attention, Bought in an Instant." NY
 Times. N.p. November 17, 2012. Web. 20 January, 2013.
[2] "Crowd Science." What is Real-Time Bidding. N.p., August 30, 2011.
            Web. January 20, 2013.
[3] " The Arrival of Real-Time Bidding, and What is Means for Media Buyers.
            Google, 2011. Web. January 20, 2013.
[4] Maul, Kimberly. "Ad Exchanger." 2012: Review: RTB Gained Ground
            Thanks to Major Brand Participation. N.p., December 6, 2012. Web.
            January 21, 2013. <
[5] "Blue Kai." The Blue Kai Registry- Putting Consumers in Control of
            their Digital Footprint. N.p., 2012. Web. January 21, 2013.
[6] "Parks Associates." Real-time bidding (RTB) is changing online display
            advertising market, with revenues reaching $1.6 billion. N.p.,
            AUGUST 07, 2012. Web. January 21, 2013.
[7] Pix Geeks. N.p., n.d. Web. January 26, 2013. <http://pix-


  1. I really had no idea how this worked!

    1. I'm glad I could teach you something! stay tuned for the next one!

  2. Wow, I knew that this happened, but had no idea how. It is incredible that these auctions happen within milliseconds. I clear my cookies quite often, but must admit that I don't really mind that this happens because I prefer having a more personalized web experience. I've found some great products I may not have otherwise found without RTB.

    1. I thought it was really interesting how it happens and loved researching it! I don't mind either. I like think about it business wise and its so smart!

  3. Facsintating, RTB really begs the question about ones free will. Frankly, it is apparently clear that the days of free will when it comes to online marketing is over. An individual is being driving to comsume a very specific product of the marketers choosing.. its a brave new world...

    1. Its i brave! when researching I felt intrigued from the business view, but wasn't sure about the personal aspect which is why I put in ways to opt out.

  4. From a marketing standpoint, it's fascinating to know how these affect online advertising and the amount of information being provided to companies. Nice analysis!,

  5. I remember when I first began seeing real time was a little unnerving. I even set my browsers to delete cookies frequently as a result (not for the reason that most people turn off cookies...I wasn't deleting my history as well :) ). After gaining greater understanding of what active cookies are able to do and how unlikely it would be for anyone to use cookies against me I stopped being so adamant about cookie blocking settings. Even today I'm still amazed at how I can view proplantronics headsets in google and then be served ads on foxnews later that day. Amazing technology!

  6. Interesting. I'd noticed that sometimes I see ads for things I just looked at, but I'd never really thought about how it happens. Now I know.