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Behavioral Targeting Misses Mark

Americans reluctant to be tracked

October 7, 2009

Despite the concerns of some consumers and privacy advocates, marketers have defended behavioral targeting on the basis that Internet users would prefer to look at relevant advertisements and offers.

But a study from researchers at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of California Berkeley School of Law and the Annenberg Public Policy Center reports just the opposite.

“Contrary to what many marketers claim, most adult Americans (66%) do not want marketers to tailor advertisements to their interests,” according to the paper. “Moreover, when Americans are informed of three common ways that marketers gather data about people in order to tailor ads, even higher percentages— between 73% and 86%—say they would not want such advertising.”

US Internet Users Who Would Like Websites to Show Information Personalized to Their Interests, June-July 2009 (% of respondents)

Respondents showed somewhat more interest in receiving personalized discounts and news, but still, less than one-half of Americans wanted any tailored Web content at all.

That was true of consumers in every age group—even young adults ages 18 to 24 were more likely to say no to behavioral targeting than to accept it, except for discounts.

Several earlier studies reached different conclusions. For example, ChoiceStream consistently found from 2006 through 2008 that at least 70% of Internet users were interested in seeing personalized online ads. And more than one-half of Web users surveyed by Q Interactive in March 2009 said they would prefer to receive targeted advertisements based on their personal data in order to enjoy free content. Most also said they would view an online advertiser favorably because of ads tailored to their interests.

More than two-thirds of respondents to the Annenberg/Berkeley study felt they had lost control over their personal information. At the same time, however, they believed businesses handled their data well and that they were already protected by current regulations.

Attitude of US Internet Users Toward the Way that Businesses and the Law Handle Their Personal Information, June-July 2009 (% of respondents)

Even so, marketers hoping to avoid regulation through industry self-policing may have an uphill battle, as most respondents were in favor of new legislation. Almost two-thirds (63%), for example, thought there should be a law requiring advertisers to immediately delete information about their Internet activity.

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Check out today’s other article, “Online Spending Passes TV in UK.”


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