Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Behind The Curtain: The Adtech Truth – Who are you

Behind the Curtain is a monthly column from Redbud, the ‘adtech voice of truth’, digging deep each month to discover what’s really going on buried deep in the adtech layers around publishers’ sites.

An open letter to, by co-founder Chloe Grutchfield


I’ve seen you lurking around.

You seem to know so much about me. You know some of the web pages I visit, my browser information and who knows, maybe more. Yet, I know so little about you. Seems a little one-sided, don’t you think?

Who are you And what are you doing with my data?

All I know is that your pixel is triggered by adtech vendors – pretty big players in fact – and on a number of websites, including some big, national news websites that I read every day.

I’m also getting the feeling that you like long-term relationships. Your cookie has an impressive 10-year expiry date. That’s dedication. Yet, you’re quite shy, aren’t you? Your domain is hidden behind a privacy registration service. I have tried very hard to identify who you are but it’s as if you didn’t want to be found.

Who are you And why don’t you want to be found?

I know what you will say: you’ll try and state that you spotted me because I have visited an adult website. I can assure you with the greatest respect, I didn’t.

Thing is, I’m happily married with two beautiful kids, and don’t really have the time for hide and seek, let alone adult websites. What with running a family home and keeping an eye on you all the time — you could say I’ve got a lot going on.

Who are you And why won’t you leave me alone?

I presumed you might be agitated about how I know about your existence, but after writing my initial letter in October 2018, I guess not. Perhaps you’re a little unnerved — that would be understandable — but, perhaps you feel untouchable?

Well, you see, my business partner and I have a pretty cool tool, DIAGNOSE, which among other things, scans lots of websites to understand what content (visible or not) is being loaded onto a web browser, or a device via a website or an app.

When you crawl a lot of websites and apps, you start to see things – patterns, trends, vendors that regularly error – and derive insights. In fact, we’ve discovered some interesting areas surrounding website latency culprits, troublesome redirects, vendors that rely on consent as a legal basis to process data (and yet have their cookies dropped before the user has consented), and why there are discrepancies between advertiser and publisher numbers.

And that only scratches the surface.

And that’s how I found you, hidden between a viewability tag and a brand safety script and triggered by an SSP.

You’re sneaky aren’t you

You may have heard about this thing called the GDPR, which came into effect nearly 12 months ago. It’s no big deal or anything, it just means us ‘industry experts’ are more curious about vendors that drop cookies – and therefore process – what’s now classified as personal data.

I don’t know about you, but I’d quite like to know who is reading cookies left right and centre across websites I visit, being able to get a very good picture of my online habits. Do they have my consent, or do they rely on legitimate interest? Are they registered with the IAB Tech Lab Consent & Transparency Framework? What does their privacy policy say?

So many questions So many questions, and such little information.

Looking at you in particular, I can’t find any of this information! You seem to have missed the call for better advertising under the GDPR movement, and you are playing a dangerous game with the ICO and the regulators.

What’s more, when I look at every single one of your HTTP requests, it’s clear that you are saving my data (cookie ID) in a folder called /sspsync/. And, I think I know why… you have a big lookup table with my ID across lots of different platforms.

Am I correct?

I’m paranoid, I know. But you’re not being very transparent, and your name is definitely not helping, Quick tip from me, your name is probably not working in your favour at all.

But even after everything you’ve done — that’s not the end of the stalker-nightmare for me. Because, the scary thing s3xified, is that you are not the only one…

Until next time.

Chloe Grutchfield, co-founder RedBud

P.S. Readers, do me a favour. Check whether you have the s3xified cookie on your browser. Here’s how to on Chrome: If you do (so far everyone I’ve asked has it), get in touch.