Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=2137601
 


 



Behavioral Advertising: The Offer You Cannot Refuse


Chris Jay Hoofnagle


University of California, Berkeley - School of Law, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology

Ashkan Soltani


University of California, Berkeley - School of Information

Nathan Good


Good Research

Dietrich James Wambach


University of Wyoming

Mika Ayenson


Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)

August 28, 2012

6 Harvard Law & Policy Review 273 (2012)
UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 2137601

Abstract:     
At UC Berkeley, we are informing political debates surrounding online privacy through empirical study of website behaviors. In 2009 and 2011, we surveyed top websites to determine how they were tracking consumers. We found that advertisers were using persistent tracking technologies that were relatively unknown to consumers. Two years later, we found that the number of tracking cookies expanded dramatically and that advertisers had developed new, previously unobserved tracking mechanisms that users cannot avoid even with the strongest privacy settings.

These empirical observations are valuable for the political debate surrounding online privacy because they inform the framing and assumptions surrounding the merits of privacy law.

Our work demonstrates that advertisers use new, relatively unknown technologies to track people, specifically because consumers have not heard of these techniques. Furthermore, these technologies obviate choice mechanisms that consumers exercise. We argue that the combination of disguised tracking technologies, choice-invalidating techniques, and models to trick the consumers into revealing data suggests that advertisers do not see individuals as autonomous beings. Once conceived of as objects, preferences no longer matter and can be routed around with tricks and technology.

In the political debate, “paternalism” is a frequently invoked objection to privacy rules. Our work inverts the assumption that privacy interventions are paternalistic while market approaches promote freedom. We empirically demonstrate that advertisers are making it impossible to avoid online tracking. Advertisers are so invested in the idea of a personalized web that they do not think consumers are competent to decide to reject it. We argue that policymakers should fully appreciate the idea that consumer privacy interventions can enable choice, while the alternative, pure marketplace approaches can deny consumers opportunities to exercise autonomy.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 24

Keywords: Privacy, tracking, flash, cookies, local stored objects, usability, online advertising, behavioral targeting, self-help

JEL Classification: D18

Accepted Paper Series


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Date posted: August 30, 2012  

Suggested Citation

Hoofnagle, Chris Jay and Soltani, Ashkan and Good, Nathan and Wambach, Dietrich James and Ayenson, Mika, Behavioral Advertising: The Offer You Cannot Refuse (August 28, 2012). 6 Harvard Law & Policy Review 273 (2012); UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 2137601. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2137601

Contact Information

Chris Jay Hoofnagle (Contact Author)
University of California, Berkeley - School of Law, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology ( email )
344 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States
510-643-0213 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://hoofnagle.berkeley.edu
Ashkan Soltani
University of California, Berkeley - School of Information ( email )
102 South Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-4600
United States
Nathan Good
Good Research ( email )
828 San Pablo Ave
Suite 120D
ALBANY, CA CA 94706
United States
Dietrich James Wambach
University of Wyoming ( email )
Box 3434 University Station
Laramie, WY 82070
United States
Mika Ayenson
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) ( email )
Worcester, MA 01609
United States
HOME PAGE: http://www.wpi.edu/
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