Hulu, Big Data, Cookies & YOU

Hulu was launched in 2007 and ever since it has been an ad-supported on-demand website that streams video files; everything from last night’s TV shows, movies, movie trailers, webisodes, etc. Hulu’s videos are in Flash Video format and the website provides web syndication for further user interaction via Facebook, MySpace, and MSN (just to name a few). Those playing a role in the survival of Hulu: NBCUniversal, Fox Entertainment Group, Disney-ABC- with funding by Providence Equity Partners.

HULU & DATA: In October 2011 Hulu software developer, Shane Moriah, gave a talk on Hulu & Big Data, but especially the relevance of data in almost every industry:

“Metrics are the core of data-driven business,” he said. “Pretty much every business now–every tech business, every non-tech business–is interested in metrics.”

“You can understand your users and usage, develop and track new existing products–and, of course, there’s money,” he continued. “We make most of our money off of advertisements, so being able to track what advertisements are shown and when–that’s how we make our money.”

According to Moriah, data is used to track a variety of factors across the Hulu site: views per video, number of advertisements shown, quality of service, as well as “individual viewer data,” or how people behave across the lifetime of their visit to the site.

Hulu has the ability through this data tracking to record time, advertisement information, user IDs, and other personal information. According to Moriah, “Data is also used to balance content and user interface, as well as to drive some larger company decisions such as “negative results” communicating unsuccessful initiatives.”

PRIOR TO OCT 2011: In August 2011, Hulu (along with MSN) were found using SUPERCOOKIES to monitor the info of those who visit their sites. These supercookies are commonly deployed through flash content (such as the video content on Hulu) which stores cookies in a separate folder and will not be erased the computer user goes and deletes normal cookies through the browser. Ultimately, these supercookies are able to recreate a profile of the individual user and gain valuable information that advertising firms use for research and targeting purposes on the web.

When Hulu was informed of the supercookie issue, the addressed concerns by making an online statement saying they “acted immediately to investigate and address”. This type of tracking that was done intentionally or inadvertently by Hulu was able to take a look into people’s online lives by seeing Web-browsing history- this includes any personal medical searches, credit repairs- anything and everything. This problem has become known as history stealing.

This type of privacy stealing has potential to reach Washington; this potential has caused the online ad-industry itself to establish its own rules “which (they say) are designed to alert computer users of tracking and odder them ways to limit the use of such data by advertisers.” Due to the supercookies and user tracking, Hulu was one of several companies to enter into a 2.4 million class-action settlement last year- this settlement related to the use of Flash cookies to circumvent users who tried to delete their regular cookies.

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