- The analytics firm Jumpshot just shut down after a report alleged it was selling people’s browsing data without their knowledge to marketers like Home Depot and Revlon.
- Former employees and marketers said Jumpshot’s parent company, the cybersecurity firm Avast, worried that the report could hurt its business.
- Avast and Jumpshot have said the company’s data is anonymous and does not reveal personally identifiable information.
- Jumpshot’s shutdown comes amid growing measures to protect consumer privacy.
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Just a month ago, 5-year-old Jumpshot looked like a company on the move. Ascential, the holding company behind the giant advertising conference Cannes Lions and the well-connected media- and ad-consulting firm MediaLink, had recently acquired 35% of the startup and was introducing it to clients at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Jumpshot promised advertisers unparalleled access to granular data within Amazon and Google, and the Ascential relationship had the potential to supercharge the business.
Then at the end of January, Jumpshot suddenly shut down and laid off about 250 employees. Ascential sold its stake back to Avast. At the time of the acquisition, Jumpshot was valued at $173 million.
The firm had just been the subject of an investigation by Vice and PCMag that alleged Avast, a Czech company that makes cybersecurity software and acquired Jumpshot in 2013, was collecting and selling people’s web-browsing data without their knowledge. According to the investigation, big companies such as Pepsi, Home Depot, Microsoft, and McKinsey paid Jumpshot for this data.
Vice and PCMag said they contacted more than two dozen Jumpshot clients and got “only a handful” of responses. Two respondents, Home Depot and Yelp, said they used anonymized data from Jumpshot, according to the article. Jumpshot and Avast said the data was anonymized.
Dozens of other media outlets, including Forbes, Fox Business, and The Verge, picked up the story. Avast’s stock plummeted, and the company lost about £1.1 billion ($1.45 billion) of its £5.1 billion ($6.7 billion) value, the Financial Times reported.
Jumpshot’s website is now blank except for a message that reads, “Jumpshot has ceased operations. Thank you.”
Jumpshot CEO Deren Baker did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. An Avast spokesperson pushed back on the idea that Jumpshot was shut down in response to the article.
“We started making changes in July to how data was collected and processed through an explicit opt-in request, and by divesting 35% ownership, prior to significant media coverage on the topic,” the spokesperson said in an email. “Despite these and subsequent changes, we came to the conclusion that providing marketing insights was not in line with our privacy priorities as a company in 2020 and beyond.”
Representatives for Ascential declined to comment for this story.
Consumer privacy has become a hot-button issue
Jumpshot’s shutdown comes amid growing consumer-privacy concerns, which have led to laws, such as California’s Consumer Privacy Act, that are clamping down on marketers’ ability to collect and sell people’s online data.
Business Insider spoke with three former employees who said the article, coupled with a recent change to Google’s Chrome browser, made Avast’s executives and board members nervous that users’ privacy was at risk. The former employees’ identities are known to Business Insider, but they requested anonymity because their severance packages are still being worked out.
Separately, a marketer and an agency familiar with Jumpshot’s pitch said its offering was expensive and that it was hard to understand all the data.
Jumpshot pitched itself as a way around the walled gardens
Jumpshot has long pitched its data to advertisers and journalists as a way to get data from walled gardens like Amazon, Netflix, and Google.
It pulled data from 100 million devices and 5 billion daily actions to help marketers understand which sites people visited before buying products or watching content. The firm also sold data and research to brands about their competitors’ online sales.
Two former employees said Jumpshot didn’t identify personal information. One said Jumpshot turned down contracts from marketers that wanted such data.
“It was all about understanding what groups of consumers tend to do — not tracking an individual and targeting them with an ad at the right moment,” another former employee said.
Nike was one of Jumpshot’s biggest examples of how it pitched data to marketers. In November, Nike said it would stop selling its products on Amazon to focus on selling directly to consumers. Jumpshot used the Nike example to show the kind of data it could sell to other marketers that were making similar moves. That pitch would have aligned with Ascential’s Amazon-focused agency Flywheel Digital.
Data provided by Jumpshot to journalists at the time showed how Nike’s sales broke down between marketplaces like Amazon and its own website. It is unclear if Nike was a Jumpshot client; Nike did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.
Jumpshot depended on Avast’s data to keep the lights on
Jumpshot drew negative attention in the fall when Wladimir Palant, the founder of the popular ad-blocking software Adblock Plus, published a blog post that alleged Avast’s browser was collecting people’s browsing behavior without their knowledge and said users were “being spied upon.” In December, Firefox, Mozilla, and Google temporarily removed Avast’s browser extensions from their app stores over the same data-collection concerns, according to 9to5Google.
Jumpshot’s closest competitor was SimilarWeb, which also helps marketers track data across websites. Unlike other firms that pull data from third parties, Jumpshot got data exclusively from people who had downloaded Avast’s products. After Google’s move, employees said they were concerned that if Avast pulled the plug, Jumpshot would lose all of its access to data. Google also enforced a rule barring Avast from sharing its browser extension data with third parties, including Jumpshot.
According to one former employee, Jumpshot worked through the holidays to find a new way to collect data outside browser extensions.
Avast got hit by a storm of negative press
Two days after the Vice and PCMag article was published, Avast’s board and leadership met to determine Jumpshot’s fate, according to one former employee.
The next day, Jumpshot executives told employees at an all-hands meeting that the company would shut down. Two former employees said the meeting was emotional. Employees wore Jumpshot-branded T-shirts to work on Thursday to honor the startup.
“We’ve had such a tight-knit group and so much fun,” a former employee said. “I couldn’t be prouder about what we built.”
Some employees said they weren’t surprised by the Vice and PCMag report but by how quickly Avast reacted.
“I always knew that someday somebody was going to write the story of, ‘Cybersecurity companies are selling your data’ — that’s such an intriguing hook,” a former employee said. “Even those of us who knew that was going to happen one day didn’t compute that three days later the company would be out of business.”
Was Jumpshot selling the ‘holy grail’ of consumer data?
One agency exec familiar with Jumpshot’s pitch said that at a time when platforms were limiting marketers’ access to user data, Jumpshot had a seemingly appealing pitch.
“In the search landscape, more and more often data that Google used to supply to us is either pulled back or obfuscated,” the source said. “The promise that Jumpshot was giving us a view into that without exposing personal identifiers was like a holy grail.”
But like with other adtech and marketing-tech companies, it was hard to understand how to use and apply the learnings from Jumpshot’s dashboard, the agency exec said.
The exec also expressed concern about mixing Jumpshot’s data with a marketer’s own data.
“The data feed was expensive in itself, but the infrastructure that you would need to build to get it into a usable format was beyond what I would be able to do,” the agency source said. “It just never got off the ground.”
Cristina Marinucci, the North American lead of e-commerce insights and analytics at Johnson & Johnson, said she was also familiar with Jumpshot’s pitch but not a client. She said Jumpshot’s folding was a warning sign for marketers to ask how vendors collect data.
“It’s important to really scrutinize the policies of your suppliers — we have to ensure that privacy policies and regulations are upheld,” she said.