This is the summary of an article by Catherine Dwyer, in which she describes how users are tracked on Levis.com
You can get the PDF of the behavioral targeting article here:
Behavioral targeting allows advertising networks to collect information about the online activities of a consumer. These networks gather data by observing millions of consumers, and knowing the sites visited, length of stay, pages viewed and which website is entered next by any individual.
Basically, no name, address, phone number or email is stored, so each individual web browser is anonymous, and tagged with identifier aggregates, most common of which are cookies. These technologies have become more sophisticated over the years. With behavioral targeting, online ads are customized in terms of specified characteristics. The advertising networks that do these have the technologies, clickstream data, data warehousing structures, among others, to do so. Examples of these companies are Akami Technologies, DoubleClick and Tacoda.
A browsing consumer is tagged and the behavior of that individual online is tracked. The data is then divided into two kinds: PII and non-PII. PII stands for personally identifiable information. So PII is your name, ss number. Non-PII is everything else about you, and these are collected without your consent. There are 3 kinds of methods to collect these data, namely, browser cookies, web beacons and flash cookies. Most of the time all three are implemented to get a better picture of a consumer’s browsing behaviors.
Control of information
In e-commerce, trust is important, and it can be gained with respect for privacy. Privacy is hard to describe though. Most e-commerce use Westin’s definition about privacy: a control of information. So they justify that control is not needed because of the anonymous nature of tracking customer tags.
However, anonymity is not privacy. Privacy is the preservation of free choice, independence and autonomy. Nevertheless, it’s very hard to reinforce privacy in the online environment now; software that provides information control is hard to achieve.
Advertising networks mutely collect information through behavioral targeting and this greatly influences a customer’s purchase decisions. This means no autonomy. The technique resembles that used by viruses and hackers.
Future research related to this study will tackle profiling an entire industry. This one tackled only one website. Furthermore, it will study the awareness of consumers about the risks involved. Nevertheless, there are quite a few options to protect privacy, the best but most impractical way would be to withdraw from the online world altogether. What’s best for now, is to delete cookies and temporary internet files every time after browsing.
Behavioral targeting should not have such a one sided capacity to influence consumers. They should give consent to consumers and increase clearness of these targeted ads.