Feeds

Study: US web users reject behavioural advertising

Citizens unexpectedly renounce spying and subterfuge

Top three mobile application threats

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.

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Sorry London, Europe's top tech city is Munich
New 'Atlas of ICT Activity' finds innovation isn't happening at Silicon Roundabout
Dropbox defends fantastically badly timed Condoleezza Rice appointment
'Nothing is going to change with Dr. Rice's appointment,' file sharer promises
Audio fans, prepare yourself for the Second Coming ... of Blu-ray
High Fidelity Pure Audio – is this what your ears have been waiting for?
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
Apple DOMINATES the Valley, rakes in more profit than Google, HP, Intel, Cisco COMBINED
Cook & Co. also pay more taxes than those four worthies PLUS eBay and Oracle
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.