Online businesses have employed cookies and other tracking technologies to follow consumers as they click their way into, through, and out of a Web site. This charting of navigational choices and purchases can be used to create a nominally useful profile over time. There are weaknesses, however. Such profiles are typically limited to actions at a single site and, given the current privacy protection climate, no one is sharing a lot of information right now. They are also based largely, at least to begin with, on inference. One can, for example, infer preferences based on navigation, but really cannot confirm them until multiple purchases have been made. Finally, unless the consumer has a good reason to "opt in" with demographic information, the profile remains fairly shallow.
In contrast, consider the ammunition that a major biller such as a credit card issuer, telecommunications provider, insurance company, or public utility brings to the table. To begin with, a biller is no way limited to information gathered at a single or even numerous Web sites. Instead, banks or telcos have detailed transaction records, often going back years, from which to create meaningful anonymous profiles.