Consumers Really, Really Don’t Like Behavioral Tracking

by Brian Blum on September 30, 2009

BullseyeFollowing up on my previous post, it appears that consumers are not so happy with behavioral tracking on the Internet. According to a new survey from professors at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Berkeley, two-thirds of Americans object to being tracked by advertisers. And if those consumers learn exactly how they’re being followed, the percentage increases even more.

The study, reported today in The New York Times, was conducted by telephone not via the web and included 1,000 adult Internet users. Some of the highlights:

  • Tailored ads in general did not appeal to 66 percent of respondents. More important: 55 percent of those in the 18-24 group were opposed to being tracked (somewhat of a surprise given that anecdotal evidence says that Facebook users don’t mind handing over personal information).
  • When the respondents were told that part of that tailoring was tracking what they were doing on specific websites, an additional 7 percent said those ads were not OK.
  • And when they learned that tracking was also being done on additional websites, another 18 percent were upset.
  • The worst: when respondents learned that advertisers could track them offline, the percent of disgruntled consumers jumped an additional 20 percent.
  • On the other hand, 51 percent said it was OK to follow them if it meant customized discounts and 58 percent didn’t mind getting tailored news.

The survey is bound to fuel the legal ambitions of lawmakers looking to score points with privacy ravaged Americans. Representative Rick Boucher of Virginia and David Vladeck, head of consumer protection for the FTC, say they both are looking at data privacy issues closely.

On the question of laws, the survey found that:

  • 69 percent of American adults feel there should be a law that gives people the right to know everything that a website knows about them.
  • 92 percent 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.”
  • 63 percent believe advertisers should be required by law to immediately delete information about their Internet activity.

Marketers of course argue that, without advertising, free content couldn’t exist online. There’s no debating that. The issue, as I posed in my previous post, is that consumers have a right to know – and to opt out – of being followed without their knowledge during their travels on the net.

Would that there was such a backlash at the casinos.

You can download the full 27-page report from The Times website.

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