Oracle's next big business is selling your info

The tech titan’s Data Cloud is a boon for businesses, but raises privacy concerns

IDG

IDG

There’s a decent chance you're part of Oracle’s next big business. Not selling products to you, but selling you as a product. That's the idea behind the Oracle Data Cloud, a massive pool of information about consumers and companies.

The tech titan has put it together by tracking people across the web and buying data from a variety of sources. People who have their data included may not even know that they’ve opted in for that data collection.

There’s no big red button that someone has to click in order to be a part of the company's data collection machine. Instead, its base of user data is fed by a network of third parties.

The Data Cloud is primarily fed by three types of sources: publishers, like Forbes and Edmunds, retail loyalty programs, and traditional data brokers like Experian and IHS.

All of that adds up to a database of 5 billion consumer profiles, fed by 15 million data sources. Not every profile corresponds to a unique person -- people can have multiple profiles -- but Oracle has information on billions of people, according to Eric Roza, the vice president of Data Cloud.

Using data science techniques, Oracle works to match activity from one browser to others, so companies can make sure the same ads get shown to people on their smartphones, tablets, and computers.

Oracle sees Data Cloud as a key part of its future. The service is being used to help advertisers and publishers better target ads, and it’s attractive to businesses because it's not tied to a major advertising platform like Google's or Facebook's.

The Data Cloud also forms the foundation of machine learning features inside other Oracle software. One of the challenges for companies doing machine learning is getting data sets that are large enough to build accurate models, and Data Cloud can help solve that problem.

But the benefits are mostly borne by Oracle's business customers, who stand to make more money as a result of using Data Cloud enhanced services. The boon to consumers whose data are being used is less defined.

Oracle isn't alone in this sort of tracking. There are dozens of companies that exist for the sole purpose of collecting consumer data and then reselling that to other businesses. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and other tech titans have made big money from accumulating customer data and using it to sell ads.

But what makes the Data Cloud different from something like Google's ad business is that consumers might not know their behavior is being stored for resale, or how broadly it's shared.

Just because someone visits a page on Forbes doesn't mean they'd expect that information to influence a marketing campaign on a radically different website, but that's what the Data Cloud enables.

Partners feeding data into Oracle's Data Cloud must agree they have user permission to collect information. But acquiring that permission is as simple as burying a few sentences deep in a privacy policy. While some might call out Oracle Data Cloud by name, most don't.

"Typically, because these things are quite common practice now, there's a more generalized statement [like] some version of 'we use this data to inform our own advertising, and select third-party partners,'" Roza said.

Users can opt out from the data collection in a variety of ways, according to Roza. Oracle allows people to install a special cookie in each of the browsers they use to prevent tracking.

Deleting the cookie or using a new browser would erase that protection, however. Some publishers may allow customers to opt out of data sharing, and advertising industry groups also support opting out.

But actually knowing whether or not you're included in the Data Cloud is the first part of the battle. And that's not the easiest thing to figure out.

Meanwhile, Oracle is continuing to pour money into the business and tout it to customers. The company has spent billions on acquisitions to build the Data Cloud, which was created through bringing companies like BlueKai, Datalogix, and Moat into the fold.

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Blair Hanley Frank

IDG News Service
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