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NetZero Offers Opt-In User Data Through New Research Division

Free ISP NetZero Tuesday took the wraps off its CyberTarget market research Web site and division.

The CyberTarget division is based on the data that NetZero has accumulated from its database of more than five million users, online surveys, and the users' Web surfing habits -- all of which is opt-in information, the company said.

The company hopes to sell this information, in turn, to marketers seeking audience measurement services and targeted market research panels, while maintaining the privacy of users' personally identifying information.

"Our CyberTarget division is an extremely effective strategic tool," said NetZero chairman and chief executive officer Mark Goldston. "For example, its custom market research capabilities enable clients to gain strategic advantages by specifically targeting their competitors' customers.

"Researchers have the ability to access both current customers of other brands and potential consumers, so they can gain an in-depth understanding of the marketplace and new opportunities they may want to exploit."

NetZero says its extensive user database means CyberTarget will provide a greater understanding of Internet user demographics than can traditional Internet rating companies with panels numbering in the thousands. PC Data, for instance, claims to have the largest Internet usage research panel in the U.S., with more than 120,000 participants.

"It is highly unusual to have the potential to reach this many people -- and both accurately survey and serve them, based on such specific, behavioral information," said Rusty Taragan, senior vice president of NetZero and CyberTarget general manager.

The company says its database, coupled with its user clickstream data tracking, together allow researchers to target both according to demographic or by use of specific online services or Web sites.

"With CyberTarget, we can also perform sophisticated satisfaction studies targeted to a specific audience," Goldston said. "By using non-personal, aggregated information, we're able to pioneer new standards for market research while scrupulously protecting our users' privacy."

CyberTarget currently offers several reports and products geared toward advertisers and publishers.

But some questions exist as to the applicability of NetZero's user data to the Web population.

Specifically, a report in August by online audience monitoring firm Nielsen//NetRatings suggested that users of free ISPs skew toward a lower-income demographic. Therefore, NetZero's user base might not represent a true cross-section of the Internet-using community.

But Taragan said he does not think this tempers CyberTarget's product at all.

"First of all, it depends on what you're using as the base for [lower income]. If you look at the kinds of demographics we have, we very much mirror America as a whole. They [Nielsen//NetRatings] were comparing us to the Internet as a whole, which in of itself is upwardly skewing."

"We're a much better match for the typical American than is the Internet as a whole, or even the pay ISPs like America Online. You can't go after everyone, and in terms of the mass of America, we more closely mirror that," Taragan said.

Nevertheless, NetZero still says CyberTarget can suggest models for the entire Internet. Taragan, in fact, disputed the argument altogether in the face of the company's ability to track clickstream data combined with its huge database of users.

"We can target on income or demographics. But more importantly, we can target based on Internet activity. We think that's much more important," he said.

"Does it do any good [for a Mercedes or a BMW] to advertise to higher income people if they're not interested in bu