The Effect of Behavioral Targeting on Trust in E-Commerce

28 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2011

Date Written: April 2, 2011


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. Most data is collected anonymously, i.e., not linked to a person's name. However, behavioral targeting does create digital dossiers on consumers that connect browsing activity to a tagged individual. This tagging is largely invisible to consumers, who are not asked to explicitly give consent for this practice. While this is presented as beneficial because it delivers a more personalized e-commerce experience, this paper will argue that behavioral targeting in its current form is damaging to trust in e-commerce. To document this damage, Whitworth's polite software framework will be applied to three case studies of behavioral targeting. Whitworth argues politeness is an important social requirement of software, defining politeness as 'offering the locus of control of a social interaction to another party.' This paper will show that behavioral targeting is impolite, and by using data collected clandestinely it undermines the autonomy of consumers in their online shopping and purchase decisions, thus eroding trust in e-commerce.

Keywords: Behavioral targeting, Trust, Electronic Commerce privacy, Clickstream tracking, Social Impacts, Socio-technical Design

Suggested Citation

Dwyer, Catherine Ann, The Effect of Behavioral Targeting on Trust in E-Commerce (April 2, 2011). 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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