Americans might use loyalty cards for discounts, or surf the Web through a store's free WiFi, but that doesn't mean that they want information about themselves compiled for marketing purposes.
At least, that's the implication of a new study by Joe Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. The study, based on a survey of around 1,500 people, reportedly found that most people aren't comfortable with data mining by marketers.
More than half of the respondents (55%) disagreed with the idea that a store should be able to “create a picture” of them in order to improve services, while around 70% said it wasn't fair for stores with free WiFi to monitor shoppers' online activities, and 91% said companies shouldn't collect data about shoppers in exchange for discounts without telling them, according to a write-up of the survey in The New York Times.
This isn't the first time that research has suggested that consumers don't want information about themselves collected by companies, even when offered a benefit in exchange for the data. Six years ago, a study by Turow showed that 49% of people don't want customized discounts, while 57% don't want customized ads.
More recently, Pew reported in 2012 that most Web users don't like targeted ads. When Pew researchers asked around 1,700 Web users how they felt about receiving targeted ads, 68% of respondents said they were "not okay with it" because they don't want to be tracked and profiled. Only 28% said they were "okay with it" because they received ads and information relevant to their interests.
The latest survey by Turow also showed that people want to wield more power over how their data is collected and used. An overwhelming majority -- 84% -- said they wanted more control over what a marketer could learn about them, according to the Times.
The industry often responds to these sorts of studies by reiterating that its privacy code requires companies to notify people about online data collection across sites (or across apps) via an icon, and allow them to opt out of receiving targeted ads. But very few users -- only around one in 10, according to one recent report -- understand the industry's icon program.
What's more, the ad industry also doesn't require companies to stop collecting data about users who opt out. Instead, the industry's self-regulatory code prohibits companies from using that data for ad-targeting purposes.
Privacy advocates have long criticized that approach, arguing that companies shouldn't gather information from people who try to opt out of targeting. This latest Annenberg study indicates that many consumers agree that they should be able to decide when data about themselves can be mined by advertisers.