Sunday, October 4, 2009

Study: Americans Object to Online Tracking Government: OK, we’re on it

Nearly 70 percent of Americans object being tracked online by advertisers, according to a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Berkley.

According to the New York Times, this represents the first independent study on behavioral advertising – and the results were impressive:

(Via NYT): Tailored ads in general did not appeal to 66 percent of respondents. Then the respondents were told about different ways companies tailor ads: by following what someone does on the company’s site, on other sites and in offline places like stores.

The respondents’ aversion to tailored ads increased once they learned about targeting methods. In addition to the original 66 percent that said tailored ads were “not O.K.,” an additional 7 percent said such ads were not O.K. when they were tracked on the site. An additional 18 percent said it was not O.K. when they were tracked via other Web sites, and an additional 20 percent said it was not O.K. when they were tracked offline.

The study also uncovered interesting data on teens. While heavy use of social networking sites like Facebook have been leveraged as evidence of that age group’s acceptance of advertising, more than half of respondents ages 18-24 objected to “tailored advertising.”

And the covernment is apparently listening. According to ClickZ, legislation governing online advertising and privacy could be introduced before Congress adjourns for its winter break.

Drafted by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va), chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, the legislation will include a range of pro-consumer policies that revolve mostly around transparency and choice in how users’ information is collected, used and distributed.

Rep. Boucher outlines his views in much more detail in a recent article in The Hill:

Broadband networks are a primary driver of the national economy, and it is fundamentally in the nation’s interest to encourage their expanded use. One clear way Congress can promote greater use of the Internet for access to information, e-commerce and entertainment is to assure Internet users a high degree of privacy protection, including transparency about the collection, use and sharing of information about them and to give them control over that collection, use and sharing.

Industry is to be commended for its recent advancement of self-regulatory principles. However, while proactive, these entirely voluntary principles do not go far enough, and there is no guarantee that every company that collects information from the Internet-using public will abide by them.

Again, this illustrates how the law is always a few steps behind technology – but it is heartening to see online consumer protection receiving appropriate attention, even though most consumers are largely clueless about issues surrounding privacy.

Image: Annenberg-Berkley Report, via New York Times

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