Contrary to what marketers claim, most Americans do not want online advertisements tailored to their specific interests. That’s a conclusion from a new consumer privacy study by the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology at UC Berkeley School of Law (Berkeley Law), and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
The report, Americans Reject Tailored Advertising, shows that 66 percent of adults said no to tailored ads. Not only that, when informed of specific behavioral targeting techniques that marketers employ to create the ads, even higher percentages— between 73 percent and 86 percent—oppose tailored advertising. Those techniques include tracking behavior on websites and in retail stores.
The study is the first nationally representative telephone survey that explores Americans’ opinions about behavioral targeting, a controversial issue now under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission and government policymakers. Behavioral targeting involves two types of activities: following consumers’ actions and then tailoring advertisements for the consumers based on those actions.
While privacy advocates have lambasted behavioral targeting for tracking and labeling people in ways they do not know or understand, marketers have defended the practice by insisting it gives Americans what they want: advertisements and other forms of content that are as relevant to their lives as possible. Not so, according to lead author Joseph Turow of the Annenberg School. “This study finds that in high percentages, Americans stand on the side of privacy advocates,” said Turow.
Although the study found that younger American adults are less likely to reject tailored advertising, more than half (54 percent) of 18- 24 year-olds rejected it. Turow noted that “contrary to consistent assertions by marketers, young adults have as strong an aversion to being followed online as do older adults.”
The Berkeley-Annenberg team found that 92 percent of those polled agree there should be a law that requires websites and advertising companies to delete all stored information about an individual, if requested to do so. Sixty-three percent believe advertisers should be legally required to delete information about their internet activity immediately, whether requested or not.
According to co-author Jennifer King, a former research fellow with Berkeley Law, “When it comes to privacy and the internet, many Americans think they have far more protections than the law actually offers them. This is a strong signal to regulators that more clarity is needed regarding how the public’s information is protected online.”
Study co-author Chris Hoofnagle, a lecturer and research fellow at Berkeley Law, said the findings show a disconnect between American consumers and marketers: “Marketers will have to take significant steps to overcome consumer discomfort with tailored advertising,” said Hoofnagle.
The report will be discussed by co-authors Hoofnagle and Turow at the New York University School of Law’s Workshop on Federal Privacy Legislation on Friday, October 2, 2009.
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