Sep 302009
 September 30, 2009  Posted by  Business, Featured News, Online

Stephanie Clifford reports:

About   two-thirds of Americans object to online tracking by advertisers — and that number rises once they learn the different ways marketers are following their online movements, according to a new survey from professors at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Berkeley.

Read the full story in the New York Times.

From the survey’s overview:

Our survey did find that younger American adults are less likely to say no to tailored advertising than are older ones. Still, more than half (55%) of 18-24 year-olds do not want tailored advertising. And contrary to consistent assertions of marketers, young adults have as strong an aversion to being followed across websites and offline (for example, in stores) as do older adults. 86% of young adults say they don’t want tailored advertising if it is the result of following their behavior on websites other than one they are visiting, and 90% of them reject it if it is the result of following what they do offline. The survey uncovered other attitudes by Americans toward tailored content and the collection of information about them. For example:

  • Even when they are told that the act of following them on websites will take place anonymously, Americans’ aversion to it remains: 68% “definitely” would not allow it, and 19% would “probably” not allow it.
  • A majority of Americans also does not want discounts or news fashioned specifically for them, though the percentages are smaller than the proportion rejecting ads.
  • 69% of American adults feel there should be a law that gives people the right to know everything that a website knows about them.
  • 92% agree there should be a law that requires “websites and advertising companies to delete all stored information about an individual, if requested to do so.”
  • 63% believe advertisers should be required by law to immediately delete information about their internet activity.
  • Americans mistakenly believe that current government laws restrict companies from selling wide-ranging data about them. When asked true-false questions about companies’ rights to share and sell information about their activities online and off, respondents on average answer only 1.5 of 5 online laws and 1.7 of the 4 offline laws correctly because they falsely assume government regulations prohibit the sale of data.
  • Signaling frustration over privacy issues, Americans are inclined toward strict punishment of information offenders. 70% suggest that a company should be fined more than the maximum amount suggested ($2,500) “if a company purchases or uses someone’s information illegally.”
  • When asked to choose what, if anything should be a company’s single punishment beyond fines if it “uses a person’s information illegally,” 38% of Americans answer that the company should “fund efforts to help people protect privacy.” But over half of Americans adults are far tougher: 18% choose that the company should “be put out of business” and 35% select that “executives who are responsible should face jail time.”

The investigators are Joseph Turow, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania; Jennifer King of University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology;
Chris Jay Hoofnagle, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology;
Amy Bleakley, Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania; and Michael Hennessy, Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania.

Update: Matt Cutts raises concerns that one of the principal investigators of the study, Chris Hoofnagle, is affiliated with EPIC, but the relationship was not disclosed in the study:

Most people know that the choice of questions in an study can make a huge difference to the outcome. To fully inform the people who read the study, do I wish Chris Jay Hoofnagle had mentioned his connection to EPIC in the paper’s bio section? Yeah, I kinda do. At least when I checked Techmeme, not a single story mentioned Hoofnagle as a Principal Investigator on the grant and co-author on the study, or Hoofnagle’s connections with EPIC.

Well, this site did mention Chris as a principal author, but not his connection to EPIC, probably because I have great respect for Chris and do not think that investigator bias can account for the surprising survey results. Could any firmly held views on Chris’s part — which some might call “informed” and not “biased” — influence his interpretation of the survey results? Sure, theoretically. But interpretation aside, the results are the results in terms of numbers, and those promoting online advertising and tracking technologies need to address the surprising findings.

Image credit: Questions? by Valerie Everett/Flickr, used under Creative Commons License

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