Expedia says web cookie sale could extend to the UK

As its media business takes root and matures, Expedia Inc has a new revenue stream – selling US customers cookie data, sans personally identifiable information, to travel and non-travel advertisers so they can better-target consumers with active travel plans when they visit major US websites.

Expedia, which launched this behavioral advertising programme, called PassportAds, in the US several weeks ago, is considering expanding the programme internationally.

Expedia Media Solutions has no immediate plans to expand the programme to any international Expedia points of sale, but is carefully evaluating this possibility, a spokesman said.

At this time, data are only collected from visitors to expedia.com, and targeted PassportAds are only shown on US web domains.

However, selling cookie data from visitors to expedia.co.uk, then, likely would be under consideration.

And, non-US advertisers already are getting in on the action.

Expedia Media Solutions is working with international travel industry clients to target travel shoppers in the US, the spokesman added. For example, a London-based hotel would be able to target shoppers who have searched on expedia.com for flights from New York to London.

In the US, behavioral advertising is controversial because consumers largely are unaware of the practice and privacy policies that reference it may be difficult to fathom.

Behavioral advertising, geared to build on actions consumers already have taken, is considered more effective than contextual advertising, which targets consumers merely based on the web pages they visited.

The expedia.com spokesman, acknowledging that its privacy policy is perennially under review as practices evolve, said the following portion of expedia.com’s privacy policy relates to third-party advertisers using Expedia data beyond expedia.com:

Third-party advertisers, such as those we use to serve ads on our behalf across the internet, may use cookies and other technologies (such as web beacons or single-pixel GIFS) for several purposes, including: to measure the effectiveness of their ads; to analyze, modify, and personalize advertising content on wxpedia.com and other sites; and to provide ads about goods and services we hope will be of interest to you.

PassportAds takes targeting up a notch. Expedia and a partner, BlueKai, sell advertisers segments of expedia.com cookie data related to air-travel bookings based on fare class, destination city, departure city, length of stay, and advance booking for international or domestic flyers. In the car-hire sphere, the data might pertain to rentals by city, company, car type or Saturday rental.

So, for example, a London hotel might buy thousands of cookies targeting Expedia.com bookers flying to London on first-class seats over the next two weeks.

Through Expedia’s relationship with 200 top website publishers in the US, ranging from MSN to Amazon or Yahoo, or through arrangements advertisers make with independent advertising networks, the London hotel could serve the ad to these expedia.com bookers when they visit major US websites.

Expedia.com is the first US OTA to go public with a programme to sell cookie data in such a behavioral advertising programme, although Omar Tawakoi, the CEO of BlueKai, said top travel websites, including a major travel-search engine, are selling this type of anonymous consumer data to travel and non-travel companies.

Maziar Sattari, director of product and marketing for Expedia Media Solutions, said airlines and hotels are well-represented among participating advertisers in PassportAds.

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