Dec 192009
 December 19, 2009  Posted by  Breaches, Business, Featured News, Online

I’m confident that is not the only web site of concern, but this case study suggests that the public really often has no clue how their information is being tracked or used:

Dwyer, Catherine Ann, Behavioral Targeting: A Case Study of Consumer Tracking on (August 6, 2009).


Behavioral targeting is an online marketing method that collects data on the browsing activities of consumers, in order to “target” more relevant online advertising. It places digital tags in the browsers of web site visitors, using these tags to track and aggregate consumer behavior. The vast majority of data is collected anonymously, i.e., not linked to a person‟s name. However, behavioral targeting does create digital dossiers on consumers with the aim of connecting browsing activity to a tagged individual. This tagging is largely invisible to consumers, who are not asked to explicitly give consent for this practice. By using data collected clandestinely, behavioral targeting undermines the autonomy of consumers in their online shopping and purchase decisions. In order to illustrate the nature of consumer tracking, a case study was conducted that examined behavioral targeting within, the e-commerce site for the Levis clothing line. The results show the Levis web site loads a total of nine tracking tags that link to eight third party companies, none of which are acknowledged in the Levis privacy policy. Behavioral targeting, by camouflaging the tracking of consumers, can damage the perceived trustworthiness of an e-commerce site or the actor it represents. The risks behavioral targeting presents to trust within e-commerce are discussed, leading to recommendations to reestablish consumer control over behavioral targeting methods.

Although the full-text version of the article is not currently available on SSRN, the author’s contact information is given as cdwyer[at]

Photo credit: “Levi’s red tag” by Leo Reynolds, Flickr, used under Creative Commons License.

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