Behavioral Targeting: A Case Study of Consumer Tracking on

11 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2009 Last revised: 1 Feb 2014

Date Written: 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.

Keywords: Trust, Privacy, Behavioral Targeting, Web beacons, E-Commerce, Risk Analysis

JEL Classification: M3

Suggested Citation

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

Catherine Ann Dwyer (Contact Author)

Pace University ( email )

163 William Street
New York, NY 10038
United States


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