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The Controversy over Personalized Ads

“Ask and ye shall receive.”

Marketers tread carefully when it comes to personalized advertising—and for good reason.

Over one-half of adults in a 2008 TNS Global and TRUSTe poll were concerned about advertisers using their browsing history to serve relevant ads.

Forty-five percent of Internet users in a 2008 Harris Interactive study were uncomfortable with Websites that allow behavioral targeting.

Despite that, Q Interactive, a provider of digital targeting services, found that 53% of Web users would view an advertiser favorably if ads were tailored to their interests.

US Internet Users Who Would View an Advertiser Favorably Based on Online Ads Tailored to Their Interests, by Age, March 2009 (% of respondents)

Only 5.6% of them said they would view the advertisers unfavorably.

In fact, with the exception of 18-to-24-year-olds, over 50% of respondents of all ages said they would view an advertiser favorably if they received personalized ads.

Although there are still obstacles to getting personal information, 53% of Internet users would rather have free online services and insider information in exchange for relevant targeting data.

US Internet Users' Preferences Regarding Targeted Online Advertising, by Age, March 2009 (% of respondents)

On the other hand, 32% of the respondents said they would accept worse service in exchange for privacy, and 15% would prefer to pay for premium service and view no advertising whatsoever.

In addition, users were not comfortable sharing all types of personal information. They were most at ease sharing their ZIP code, gender, age and marital status.

Personal Information that US Internet Users Are Comfortable Sharing with a Website or Advertiser to Receive More Relevant Ads, March 2009 (% of respondents)

Users were less inclined to give information such as income and phone and Social Security numbers.

“What this study shows is that a majority of consumer groups are willing to provide information in exchange for personalized ads,” said Matt Wise of Q Interactive.

But only if marketers give them something in return.

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