That wasn’t exactly what it said, of course. Conducted by marketing company Gfk and reported on by my MediaPost colleague Wendy Davis, what the survey actually said was that only 35% of people agree with the statement, “I use free services online and on smartphones/tablets and don’t mind if my data is potentially also used for advertising purposes.”
Reports like these have been coming out since our Cro-Magnon ancestors sat in a cave, fired up a computer, and logged on to the first website -- and they have been largely useless. In 1997, Wired wrote about the challenges then facing DoubleClick: “…a subcommittee of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has written a standards draft for tracking cookies that would threaten the ability of DoubleClick and other Web ad agencies to silently track user movements between sites run by clients on their advertising networks. Without this information, DoubleClick said it can’t count unique users, and therefore cannot send its custom-picked ads to users.”
Seven years later (an eternity in Internet years), and we’re still having the same conversation. No one has ever said they like their data being used for advertising purposes, and yet everyone continues to use the Internet. The main thing these studies show us is that self-interest and convenience trump righteous indignation, every time.
Interestingly, the demographic breakdown of this week’s Gfk study shows that the younger the respondent, the less likely they are to care about being targeted. Having their data bought and sold is a fact of life for the Digital Native; it’s the only world they’ve ever known, so why should they mind?
This is good news for advertisers (and the NSA). We complain about targeting but continue offering up our data through prolific Web usage. We complain about privacy but refuse to disconnect. Our actions speak far, far more loudly than our words.
Those same actions are bad news for anyone trying to profit by restricting access to content. I’m talking to you, Netflix, and you, HBO, and you, Hulu, and so many others. The ever-brilliant Matthew Inman, aka The Oatmeal, recently described what happened when he tried to watch “Game of Thrones” without cable service or an HBO subscription. I can guarantee you his experience is being repeated in household after household, all over the world: most people want to legitimately procure and pay for content, but if you thwart us in our attempts to legitimately do so, we will steal it.
In New Zealand, where I live, Internet provider Orcon has gone so far as to offer instruction on creating a fake U.S. address to give people access to Netflix; Orcon CEO Greg McAlister recognizes that if his company doesn’t help people cheat about where they are, Web users will simply torrent the content for free.
The solution for Netflix et al is, on the surface, simple: make your shit available to everyone, worldwide, at the same time. I can hear your cries of outrage now: “It’s impossible! License restrictions! Copyright! Some other reason!” But the more you fight it, the more you lose. The people stealing your content don’t care about your license restriction problems. They just want to watch “House of Cards” at the same time everyone else does.
Look at what we do, not at what we say. Our actions demonstrate that we don’t care about being targeted to, we don’t care about privacy, and we don’t accept barriers that we think are silly. The studies don’t matter. Our behavior does.