Flash Cookie Deletion Poses Challenge to Behavioral Targeting

Earlier this month, E‑marketer predicted that the behavioral targeting ad industry will reach a spending level of $4.4 billion by 2012. To a large extent, marketers are counting on tracking  Web user behavior anonymously. This is frequently carried out through the use of browser cookies, Web beacons or flash cookies.

Consumers are generally unaware of the information being captured during a Web browsing session. And this state of affairs has prompted watchdog groups and the Federal Trade Commission to call for more “transparency of target ads.”  This comes as a report from UC Berkley suggests that up to half of Web sites are now deploying Flash cookies.

But, recently released research by Scout Analytics suggests that consumers might not be so clueless after all. The company reports that up to 7% of Flash cookies are being regularly deleted.  According to Scout Analytics, “[t]his deletion rate is up from three percent less than nine months ago.”

Scout Analytics  also calls attention to the fact that accuracy problems exist when measuring  the number of unique visitors being tracked by devices such as cookies. Matthew Shanahan, SVP of strategy for Scout Analytics says that the practice of deleting cookies and then having them re-​installed on computers means that the industry is calculating a rough rate of one unique visitor for every three counting devices. Over time, Shanahan is concerned that consumer tendency to delete or otherwise manage cookies and other counting devices makes it “only a matter of time before their error rate cannot be overlooked.”

While it seems behavioral targeting is a methodology poised to grow, there are significant hurdles to clear before the industry achieves both a level of accuracy and consumer acceptance.

[Source: Dwyer, Catherine. Behavioral Targeting. A Case Study of Consumer Tracking on Levis​.com. Proceedings of the Fifteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems. Federal Trade Commission. 9 Aug. 2009. Web. 19 Apr. 2010;  Scout Analytics Begins Tracking Visitor Awareness and Response to Adobe’s Flash Cookies. Scout Analytics. 14 Apr. 2010. Web. 20 Apr. 2010] 
Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.