Feeds

Study: US web users reject behavioural advertising

Citizens unexpectedly renounce spying and subterfuge

Boost IT visibility and business value

Americans do not want to be given tailored advertising based on monitoring of their online behaviour, according to what its authors call the first independent, academically rigorous survey of consumers' views.

Research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and the Berkeley Centre for Law and Technology has found that 66% of adult US citizens do not want advertising to be tailored to what advertisers think are their interests.

Advertisers and publishers have grown increasingly likely to track web users' behaviour and to try to show them adverts that they think will be more relevant to them. Analysing relevance depends on the tracking of behaviour, which has raised questions of web users' rights to privacy.

The survey has found that two thirds of US web users do not want this to happen. It also found that once it explained the actual methods used to track behaviour that figure rose even higher, to between 73% and 86% after three common tactics were explained to them.

Publishers keen to increase advertising revenue and advertisers have claimed that tracking that does not identify users by name is acceptable to most people, because of the benefits that accrue from being shown more relevant ads. "To marketers, it is self-evident that consumers want customized commercial messages," the academics' report says. The survey's data appear to refute that argument.

"Contrary to what many marketers claim, most adult Americans (66%) do not want marketers to tailor advertisements to their interests," said the study. "We conducted this survey to determine which view Americans hold. In high percentages, they stand on the side of privacy advocates. That is the case even among young adults whom advertisers often portray as caring little about information privacy," it said. "Our survey did find that younger American adults are less likely to say no to tailored advertising than are older ones."

Other surveys have been conducted, but the academics from California and Pennsylvania said that they used methodologies that rendered their results less useful than their own study. The new study was based on phone interviews with 1,000 randomly-selected people which was weighted using census data to be nationally representative.

The study also found that even when tailored ads come with discounts or specially fashioned news, a majority do not want their web use to be tracked. Surveyed people also overwhelmingly backed legislating further to protect web users.

"69% of American adults feel there should be a law that gives people the right to know everything that a website knows about them; 92% 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; [and] 63% believe advertisers should be required by law to immediately delete information about their internet activity," the report said.

Companies that track web use often claim that the tracking is anonymous because a user's name is not discovered or stored. Privacy advocates argue that some of the data that is gathered, such as the internet protocol (IP) address of a person's internet connection, is inherently personal and that its gathering and storage is no longer anonymous.

But the new study found that even if anonymity could be guaranteed, web users would still reject tracking ad tailoring.

"Assurance of anonymous tracking doesn’t seem to lower Americans’ concerns about behavioural targeting," it said. "They are quite negative when it comes to the general scenario of free content supported by tailored advertising that results from 'following the websites you visit and the content you look at' in a manner that keeps them anonymous. 68% definitely would not allow it, and 19% would probably not allow it. 10% would probably allow, and only 2% would definitely do it; 1% say they don’t know what they would do."

The strength of web users' feeling about the issue is reflected in the fact that 35% of them said that executives whose firms use information illegally should face jail time.

"This survey’s findings support the proposition that consumers should have a substantive right to reject behavioural targeting and its underlying practices," said the report.

The report can be read here (pdf).

Copyright © 2009, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Sonos AXES support for Apple's iOS4 and 5
Want to use your iThing? You can't - it's too old
Stick a 4K in them: Super high-res TVs are DONE
4,000 pixels is niche now... Don't say we didn't warn you
Philip K Dick 'Nazi alternate reality' story to be made into TV series
Amazon Studios, Ridley Scott firm to produce The Man in the High Castle
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
Too many IT conferences to cover? MICROSOFT to the RESCUE!
Yet more word of cuts emerges from Redmond
Joe Average isn't worth $10 a year to Mark Zuckerberg
The Social Network deflates the PC resurgence with mobile-only usage prediction
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.