Toby Gabriner to Helm ISP-Based Behavioral Ad Firm Adzilla

The former top dog at Carat Fusion and optimization firm [x+1] has taken a new CEO gig in the brave new world of ISP-enabled behavioral tracking and ad targeting. (See ClickZ’s earlier coverage.)

As CEO of Adzilla, Toby Gabriner will hold the reins of a company that aims to help Internet service providers collect data on the online activity of their subscribers, then use that data to serve ads to them on the wider Web. The approach is fairly new, but already some half dozen vendors have emerged to support it — firms with names like NebuAd, FrontPorch and Project Rialto. Hundreds of ISPs are rumored to be considering the practice, and several — including CenturyTel — have already conducted regional tests.

“This is the last bastion, or the last mile, of behavioral targeting,” Gabriner told ClickZ. “There’s not much closer to the end user that you can get. From that perspective it’s a very interesting and exciting opportunity.”

He acknowledged the privacy worries some have expressed about near-total data collection on individual Internet users. These include concerns that ISPs and their vendors may accidentally collect personally identifiable information and that user-centric behavioral tracking could lead to a customer backlash.

Gabriner acknowledged those risks, saying the company is working with its eight unnamed ISP clients and the National Advertising Initiative (NAI), an industry association of behavioral targeting firms and networks, to address privacy issues head-on and give consumers more control over their data.

“We’re doing quite a bit of work to figure out how we can work with ISPs to empower the end user to manage their privacy settings,” he said.

Reached by phone last month, NAI executive director Trevor Hughes confirmed the existence of initiatives to give Web users a say in how their data is collected and stored.

San Francisco-based Adzilla was founded in 2004, but the company has only recently begun “lab tests” of a data collection system for ISP networks. If deemed successful, those tests will lead to pilot programs, which could in turn lead to wider adoption.

From a media buying and planning standpoint, Adzilla works by buying up remnant inventory from large ad networks and exchanges, layering behavioral data on top and reselling it at a premium to advertisers and agencies. The arbitrage model is identical to one practiced by Adzilla rival NebuAd.

Gabriner said Adzilla had so far purchased ad inventory from Yahoo’s Right Media, but couldn’t identify other networks or exchanges the firm has worked with. He also declined to identify specific advertisers who have tested the system.

Gabriner was most recently CEO of [x+1], prior to which he led digital agency Carat Fusion as president. He said he left New York City-based [x+1] several months ago to seek opportunities closer to his family in San Francisco.

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