June 29, 2012, 4:15 PM

No online privacy for you

Most sites ignore ‘Do Not Track’ requests, a study says.

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In a study of 269 web sites that track visitor behavior, Internet and mobile monitoring company Keynote Systems identified 211 third-party vendors collecting data. Of those, only one explicitly agreed to honor “Do Not Track” requests made by visitors, Keynote says.

The study also reports that among the 86% of web sites in the study that asked third parties to place tracking cookies on their visitors, 60% of those companies placed at least one cookie that violates industry privacy practices, for example tracking a customer who clicked on an opt-out button.

“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,” says Ray Everett, Keynote’s director of privacy services. Half of U.S. consumers are concerned about their privacy, safety and security while buying online, according to a 2011 report by Forrester Research Inc.

Trackers, the outside companies that monitor online behavior, typically appear invisible to consumers online. They use techniques like adding nuggets of code to  a web page to monitor clicks or they place tracking cookies in the browsers of site visitors. Those cookies follow a consumer around the web, collecting personal data and information about where she goes and what she does along the way.  Advertisers often employ their own third-party trackers to follow what consumers view on web sites hosting their ads—including retailer sites as well as information and entertainment sites. That means e-retailers may not always know which entities are collecting data about visitors to their sites.

“Ultimately, the burden of policing third-party trackers falls on the shoulders of web site publishers. A publisher is responsible for the content of its web site, including the practices of the advertisers appearing on it,” Everett says. “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 checks for three industry standards in online privacy among trackers: providing customers an option to opt out from tracking, promising to make collected data anonymous and allowing themselves to be reviewed by other organizations. Keynote cross-checks each tracker it identifies with a database of 600 ad networks and 1,000 tracking domains owned by businesses, then flags those that violate one or more of the privacy practices. 

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