Marketers Watch as Friends Interact Online

Birds of a feather flock together. Or, in the Internet age, a customer’s friend is a potential customer.

Embracing those truisms, some big marketers, including Sprint (S) and eBay (EBAY), are turning to small start-ups to help them tap social-networking data to find would-be clients among the friends and acquaintances of existing customers, to the dismay of some privacy advocates.

EBay, for instance, used online tracking technologies to identify customers who browsed or shopped for products in the clothing, shoes and accessories section of its site. It then turned to New York-based start-up 33Across, which analyzed data from social-networking sites to map out the connections between the customers eBay had identified and other Web surfers, in order to serve up ads at the right time and place.

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