It has long been an article of faith among advertisers that consumers want more relevant advertising. Yet a new academic report finds that most Americans are opposed to marketers tracking them to tailor ad messages.
The study, compiled by researchers at the Universities of California and Pennsylvania, found 60 percent of U.S. adults don't want to be shown ads based on their interests.
When researchers explained the most common methods used for tailoring ads, the rejection rate climbed to between 73 percent and 80 percent, according to the study.
The findings give ammunition to privacy groups pressing Congress to enact stricter laws around Web tracking, particularly behavioral targeting. The Internet advertising industry has fought the efforts, pushing instead for a continuance of self-regulation and greater transparency of the methods used. The study would appear to have added weight coming from sources without an obvious predisposition in the often-bitter dispute over privacy practices.
The study's findings run counter to many articles of faith of the industry's defense of its targeting practices. For instance, consumer unease with targeting increases when they know the methods used, across demographics, including the young. Internet advertisers often stress that cookie-based tracking is done anonymously, yet the study found 68 percent of respondents reject that. More than two-thirds of people said legislation should give them the right to see the information Web sites have about them.
The survey was conducted via phone from a national sample of 1,000 Web users in order to determine on which side of the Internet privacy debate consumers fall.
"Our findings suggest that if Americans could vote on behavioral targeting, they would shut it down," the study's authors conclude.
The report found most people are misinformed about current privacy laws. For instance, most believe there are laws prohibiting the sale of online data.
The researchers recommend several actions, including giving consumers the "substantive right to reject behavioral targeting" and "encourage transparency and retention limits in marketers' actions and consumers' ability to exercise control over the data companies collect about them."
Brian Morrissey, Adweek. September 30, 2009
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