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Online behavioral tracking pervasive, Google privacy practices often violated

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

KeynoteAn in depth analysis of the behavioral tracking of 269 websites across four industries found that 86 percent place one or more third-party tracking cookies on visitors and many violate Google’s privacy practices, says Keynote Systems (NASDAQ:KEYN),which sells Internet and mobile cloud testing and monitoring solutions.

What’s more, 60 percent of these third-parties had at least one tracker that didn’t promise to comply with at least one common tracking standard.

A third-party tracker in this context is simply defined as a business that has access to your computer, when you visit a particular Website, so that they can record your browsing history and other personal data, and is a completely separate organization from the owner of that site.

The presence and identity of third-party trackers is typically invisible to users browsing their favorite Web pages.

tracking graphic

The number of Websites that allow visitors to be tracked by third-parties may be surprising to some, but as consumers begin to understand that their online behavior can be recorded, enterprises will have to work even harder to ensure that consumers’ privacy expectations are met,” said Ray Everett, Keynote’s director of privacy services.

Keynote analysis showed that nearly all Travel & Hospitality and News & Media Websites have third-party tracking (95 percent and 96 percent respectively).

Three of four financial service sites use third-party tracking

Most surprising was the fact that nearly three out of four financial services sites examined expose visitors to third-party tracking.

And of the financial services companies with tracking, 52 percent of third-party trackers violate at least one of the industry’s most common privacy standards – such as participation in industry self-regulatory programs or offering consumer opt-out choices.

Keynote’s analysis also discovered that of the 211 third-party trackers identified during the study, only one committed to honor a visitor’s request not to be tracked via the new Do Not Track feature browser vendors are implementing. In addition, News & Media sites expose site visitors to an average of 14 unique third-party tracking companies during the course of a typical visit.

Behavioral advertising, a common use of third-party tracking data, is an increasingly common practice on the Web and one of the primary ways Websites fund their operations.

Third-party trackers place cookies on the browsers of site’s visitors to track a user’s clicks and path through the Web. They also can make note of things like what the visitor buys and where the visitor goes once they leave.

Working online at the TechJournal daily, we run various spyware removal software such as Superantispyware and delete more than 400 adware tracking cookies every few days. While most are not particularly harmful, they will clog your computer as they accumulate.

A “wild west mentality” prevails

“The Web advertising ecosystem is sprawling and complicated, with hundreds of ad networks all competing to gather as much targeting data on consumers as they possibly can,” Everett noted.

“It’s very much still a ‘wild west’ mentality and the activities of aggressive tracking companies can place Website publishers in a difficult position: how do you monetize your Website without alienating your visitors and exposing yourself to legal risk?”

Everett concluded, “Ultimately, the burden of policing third-party trackers falls on the shoulders of Website publishers. A publisher is responsible for the content of their Website, including the practices of the advertisers appearing on it. Monitoring the constantly changing advertising ecosystem is a daunting task, but the consequence of failure is the placing of your brand’s reputation at tremendous risk.”

Keynote performed its online behavioral tracking analysis on data collected from the company’s own global test and measurement network and leveraged the Keynote’s new Web Privacy Tracking service announced last month.