Consumer Tracking—Both Sides of the Story

The Argument For Consumer Tracking

With the advances in emerging media and technology over the last few decades, it has become easier to track consumers’ behavioral habits and location. With the rise of smartphone apps and the use of cookies and fingerprinting, companies can track consumer trends across multiple sites and platforms.

One particular media-tracking technology is AddThis. According to Forbes, over 14 million sites use a social sharing widget from AddThis. This widget allows site visitors to easily share online content on their social media accounts by simply pressing a share button. Also, the widget tracks these visitors.

However, rather than track who these individuals are by name, the widget and AddThis track overall web visitor trends. Scott Allen, the chief marketing director of AddThis, explains the widget and technology in detail: “Our tools and the data we see are not about the individual, they’re about seeing trends at the macro-level and among very large audiences with common attributes. And because of the popularity of our tools and our reach, we have a view on big data as it relates to the open Web that few other companies have today.”

Furthermore, AddThis does have an opt-out option, and the widget doesn’t track users who have their browsers set to “Do not track.” Below is a video that discusses more about AddThis: Video about AddThis

Not only are businesses tracking consumers online, but they also have the capability to track consumers via their smartphones (i.e. through GPS or mobile device identifiers). If a store uses this technology, it can study traffic throughout the store among other things.

Regardless of the tracking method, the information gained can help businesses personalize ads and create positive shopping experiences. Additionally, tracking helps businesses make informed decisions about how to sell better. However, businesses and marketers need to use the information wisely and in a trustworthy way.

The Argument Against Consumer Tracking

Many consumers feel that this tracking goes too far and invades their privacy. In fact, a majority of consumers do not even want to be tracked. When consumers are tracked without knowing or without their permission, it seems like a business is spying on them. It makes consumers mad and uncomfortable. Tracking without permission or without informing is a bad business practice—it’s not putting the customer first.

Another concern is that there is the possibility for criminals to hack the information that is collected. Businesses need to make security a top concern.

A Possible Solution: Give-and-Take

It seems the best balance between the two sides of the argument involves using a standard where consumers willingly identify themselves as people that give a business permission to track their personal data. Along with that, businesses need to realize that to get consumers to approve of tracking, businesses need to offer good incentives and promise to protect the personal data. It must be a give-and-take relationship. It cannot be one-sided.

As mentioned, emerging media is allowing businesses to track consumers both online and in-store. No matter the method, businesses need to be aware of when consumers are more likely to accept such tracking. For example, below is a graph from a PunchTab report that shows situations where consumers are more willing to accept mobile tracking:


Finally, I would like to reiterate that marketers and businesses should not track without consumers’ permission. Consumers should be informed about the tracking; such as what data is being tracked, how the tracking is done, why it is being done, and how it benefits the consumer. Businesses need to be transparent and build trust. Otherwise, businesses will lose consumer loyalty.


One thought on “Consumer Tracking—Both Sides of the Story

  1. sabush8 says:

    Breanna, as a marketer I totally understand the benefits of tracking but as a consumer, it’s still a difficult pill to swallow. I don’t know that I’ll ever get over seeing ads pop up on Facebook from sites I just visited…for products I looked at!


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