In preparing for a panel on publisher data policy at last week's PubMatic Ad Revenue 2010 conference, the subject of crack cocaine came up in conversation with one of my panelists. As in, "Publishers don't want to have a zillion trackers and beacons riding along on their pages, but they're addicted to the crack of third party revenue."

"No," said I. "When it comes to data, publishers don't have a drug problem. They have an eating disorder." And so here you have it, ladies and gentlemen. It now has a name. Datarexia.

One can live -- quite well -- without controlled substances. But food is another story. You need it to live, and you need good quantities and quality to thrive. And so it is with data relationships. Going on a crash diet of zero data calories is unsustainable in today's marketing world. But so is the data binge-eating the many publishers have been doing over the last few years.

Last summer's seminal Wall Street Journal series on privacy showed far too many publishers unaware of just what they were ingesting. Others buy into the false choice of revenue opportunities versus control of one's future. But as was spelled out during our panel discussion last week, there is a five-step program for those seeking a healthy, controlled relationship with the world of third party data.

Step One: See it plain. Ghostery, an application from Better Advertising, is just one of many tools available through which anyone with a browser can see exactly what pixels, cookies, beacons and other trackers are being dropped at each stage of the browse. In 20 minutes spent across ten sites I picked up 86 trackers, many several times, for a net total of 29.

Step Two: Elevate its Importance. If you haven't yet made "data wrangler" part of someone's job, you should. And once you've done that, start looking for the budget to make it someone's full-time job.

Step Three: Eat This, Not That. Start separating the good guys from the bad guys. Talk to your peers. Look at vendor privacy policies. Ask how every party pixeling your site is making money. Eventually, develop a checklist of dos and don'ts for those who'd like to drop something on your site.

Step Four: Say No to Peer Pressure. Don't believe that all the other kids are eating the same stuff, or that you'll be left behind if you don't. Every publisher is different, and every publisher's data has a different weight on the value scale. Slow down the decision making process and strip it of emotion. You'll make better decisions.

Step Five: Imagine a Healthy Future. Once you've established awareness, control and active decision making around your data policies, you can begin to understand the true market value of your data, and the options for value and revenue creation it contains. Now you can begin to craft a real strategy around how you'll extend your own audience and/or be compensated for the revenue you create for others.