Online behavioral tracking often violates privacy practices

Keynote Systems announced the results of an in-depth analysis of online behavioral tracking on 269 Websites across four industries – News & Media, Financial Services, Travel & Hospitality and Retail.

The analysis found that 86 percent of the sites place one or more third-party tracking cookies on their visitors. 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.

Nearly all Travel & Hospitality and News & Media Websites have third-party tracking (95 percent and 96 percent respectively). 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.

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.

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. 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?

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.