Commentary

Consumer Reports: Eight In 10 Web Users Want Do-Not-Track

In 2009, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication and the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law stunned much of the ad industry by releasing a report showing that two out of three Web users don't want customized ads.

Before that report came out, online ad industry executives tended to say that the only people who objected to behavioral targeting were privacy "elitists" and not every day consumers, who would benefit by receiving more relevant ads.

This week, a new study by Consumers Reports also shows that many Web users aren't happy with online ad targeting. Forty-five percent of respondents to a recent poll said they were not comfortable with receiving ads based on their online browsing purchase history, even when the information used to target ads wasn't tied to names or otherwise personally identifiable. A comparable proportion, 43%, said they would be comfortable with such anonymous targeting.

The study, released in conjunction with a Senate panel hearing this week about privacy, was based on a telephone poll of more than 750 Web users conducted in May.

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Strikingly, a large majority of respondents (81%) said they want to see a universal do-not-track mechanism that would allow them to permanently avoid online tracking. What's more, two-thirds of those polled (67%) said that the government should help protect people's online privacy.

Almost all respondents said they already took some measures to protect their privacy -- though not necessarily to avoid behavioral advertising. Almost nine in 10 (89%) said they had installed anti-adware or anti-spyware programs, while 70% said they deleted cookies frequently, and 30% said they took other steps to opt out, either by visiting an industry-run page such as the Network Advertising Initiative's, or using a browser-based opt-out.

It's worth noting that some of those numbers sound unexpectedly high. In February, the Network Advertising Initiative reported that only 3 million unique visitors even saw the group's main Web page last year, and that fewer than 500,000 people went through the organization's opt-out procedure.

1 comment about "Consumer Reports: Eight In 10 Web Users Want Do-Not-Track".
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  1. Rob Tall from assero, June 30, 2011 at 6:34 p.m.

    This is a very amusing article. "Strikingly, a large majority of respondents (81%) said they want to see a universal do-not-track mechanism that would allow them to permanently avoid online tracking" Every browser on the market has the ability to prevent tracking via cookies. So if they want to have that option and it and it is already available in the product they are using, they are clearly ignorant on the subject in general.

    There are many types of tracking mechanisms ranging from simple first party, let me know your preferences and visit history which is done here on MediaPost to improve the user experience, to Third party cookies coming from advertisers you don't know, also used on MediaPost.

    Given the lack of understanding demonstrated in the survey answers, all you can say about these studies is that the researchers don't know what they are doing and consumers are confused and worried about their privacy.

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