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    USA Today: Are retailers going too far tracking our Web habits?

    USA Today has an article about privacy and targeted behavioral advertising, which I’ve discussed extensively.

    Companies have been monitoring our online behavior for almost as long as there’s been an Internet, often using our online footsteps (cookies) whenever we search, browse or buy online. Tracking technology has advanced so much that everything from how long we linger over a product description to whether we are searching for sexual-dysfunction drugs can be collected and stored on individual profiles. Our profiles are numeric descriptions, not our real names, but in some cases, it’s not hard to determine personal information behind the numbers.

    Privacy concerns abound, and several privacy and consumer groups are urging Congress to enact laws on what can and can’t be collected and for how long.

    But the tracking continues in earnest, in few places more avidly than among retailers. With the approach of a holiday season that even the most hopeful of industry analysts think will see only a 1% sales increase, retailers are increasingly turning to the Web for answers — and sales. […]

    A survey of 1,000 consumers released last month by professors from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California-Berkeley found almost 70% were opposed to online behavioral tracking by advertisers, and even more were opposed after they were told how the tracking was done.

    But the National Retail Federation says that whatever concerns shoppers may have, they’re not avoiding online shopping because of them. In a survey of 2,600 consumers released last week, NRF asked for the primary reasons why shoppers might not be increasing their online spending this year. Privacy concerns and worries about “online tracking” were named by only 0.1% of shoppers, the smallest factor. The cost of shipping, on the other hand, was the biggest concern, with almost 23% citing it.

    Critics argue that people aren’t more worried because they don’t understand how sweeping the tracking can be, while industry officials argue those who worry often don’t recognize the upside.

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