Behavioural targeting is a technique used by online marketers and advertisers to increase the effectiveness of their campaigns. Behavioural targeting uses information collected from the target customers web browser behavior to customize the types of advertisements they receive. Behavioural targeting can be divided into onsite behavioural targeting or network behavioural targeting depending on the type of tracking implemented.
Onsite Behavioural Targeting- companies capture and record the locations user visits when accessing their website. They accomplish this by placing a tracking cookie with a unique ID tag in the temporary storage of each user's web browser. They use the resulting data to build profiles about each respective user, and then use these profiles to retarget specific advertisements when the user returns to the website.
Network Behavioural Targeting- when companies track across a broader network of websites. It is usually used by advertising agencies that operate across a large number of partner sites. Network behavioural targeting is useful because it provides companies with a clear, more comprehensive picture of their user's web browsing behaviour. Anytime you can gather more data about your statistical topic, it becomes more significant and valid. Therefore, collecting data from more than one website is more indicative of a user's true behaviour.
Naturally, some people feel that this access of their web browser history and cookies is a violation of personal privacy. They feel as though the data collected for targeted advertising is crossing the line. These standards are not fully resolved yet, however, various advocacy groups are taking initiative to voice their displeasure. The groups are stating how they do not wish to have their behaviour tracked and so far, "opt-out" pages have been created and are maintained. Some of these opt-out pages are maintained by the NAI, the eDAA, and the DAAC.
In December 2010, online tracking agency Quantcast settled their class action lawsuit agreeing to pay $2.4 million for the illegal tracking of customer data. They utilized "zombie cookies" which would regenerate and continue tracking consumer behaviour even after they were deleted or removed. These zombie cookies were used on partner sites including MTV, Hulu, and even ESPN.
Behavioural targeting and tracking have become a topic of hot debate because tracking mechanisms without customer consent are highly frowned upon, yet this tracking is vital to the financial backbone of the internet and ecommerce websites today.