Reverse engineering exactly what's happening with even a single website's advertising machinery is harder than it sounds. There are an order of magnitude more characters of code on Drudge dedicated to advertising and tracking than there are words for humans on the page, Sudbury told me.
"When you go to Drudge Report, you load a whole bunch of their code.
me. "It reads and sets all kinds of cookies based on what you know and
they already know about you."
Why are so many tracking tools deployed on the site? It's actually a kind of emergent effect. Basically, Drudge can sell an advertising space to some advertising company, who can, in turn, resell that space to someone else, who again, can resell that space. At each step, the data about who you are has to be passed on down the line, so that prospective advertisers can decide how much they'd like to pay to show you an ad. Before you know it, 18 companies have been daisychained in. And all this can happen between when you hit enter on Drudge and when the ads show up.
We created a document of all the code that is called when your browser heads to DrudgeReport.com. We found tracking technologies from Google, Yahoo, and
Microsoft. In addition, we found several complex scripts from The Rubicon Project, a real-time advertising sales platform. We also discovered tracking by audience research firms like Quantcast, the plain
vanilla ad server AdTech, and advertising marketplaces like OpenX. Every
niche in the online ad ecosystem seemed to be filled.
We may augment our click stream data with non-personally-identifiable behavioral and demographic data from third party Services Providers (defined below) to target and serve some of the advertisements you see on the pages of our Site and those of our Portfolio publishers. This anonymous data may include such things as zip code, age, gender, and income range...
As I noted in a previous article, the online advertising world has a very particular definition of anonymity. What they mean is not that they don't know anything about you. In fact, they know, within reasonable bounds: your probable income, roughly where you live, your gender, your ethnicity, and your age. They pair this data with what you read, so they can sell advertising segments like: roughly 40 year old white men who are interested in gun rights. You are "anonymous" but anonymous in name only; all those tracking companies know whom they are dealing with, even if they can't put a face to the data.