Exposing The Online Tracking Of Consumers By Retailers
Thursday, May 28, 2009
This MediaPost article really caught my attention. It seems that Cathy Dwyer, a professor at Pace University's Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, sat students in front a computer and showed them all of the ways companies track their online usage. After witnessing this tracking the students' complacency turned to outrage:
"I do this with 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds, and once they find out this is going on they go ballistic. A few of them in one of my classes canceled their Facebook accounts..."
This online tracking includes a multitude of browser cookies and Web beacons which companies rarely or never disclose in their Web site Terms of Conditions and Privacy policies. To better understand this, Dwyer studied the Levis.com site:
This is important because, a) of the secrecy -- consumers are not informed of both the tracking activity and the wide range of companies involved, and b) it happens without the consumer's consent:
This secret targeted advertising without consent is also important because:
"...anonymity does not equal privacy. Privacy is not just a matter of controlling what information about oneself is disclosed to or by a third party. Dwyer and others contend that undisclosed behavioral tracking compromises our autonomy in the market."
In other words, consumers can't make informed choices about the products and services we buy, when our online experience is shaped and affected without our knowledge. Reportedly, Dwyer will present her research findings at the 15th Americas Conference on Information Systems in a paper titled, "Behavioral Targeting: a Case Study of Consumer Tracking on Levis.com."
If this bothers you (and I hope that it does), learn more about targeted advertising (a/k/a behavioral targeting). Then, write to your favorite retailers and demand more disclosure in their Web site Terms of Service and Privacy policies. If that doesn't work, write to your elected officials in Congress and demand legislation for more disclosure.
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