Consumers Don’t Consider Online Tracking to be Harmless

June 20, 2013

This article is included in these additional categories:

Data-driven | Digital | Personalization | Privacy & Security

ConsumerAction-Consumer-Attitudes-to-Online-Tracking-June2013While recent study results from the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) suggest that consumers prefer targeted to random online ads, a new Microsoft-supported survey [pdf] from Consumer Action finds that internet users overwhelmingly disagree with the premise that they find online tracking to be harmless if it results in their being shown more relevant ads. With the vast majority of Americans feeling that they’ve lost control of their privacy online, the right to control the information collected about them online shows up as very important to the survey respondents.

Of course, both surveys from the DAA and Consumer Action are to some extent agenda-driven, and the apparent differences in attitudes in the studies can be chalked up in some part to wording of survey questions. For example, the Consumer Action survey asks consumers if they “see no harm” in being tracked online. With most disagreeing, it’s possible that they see harm in it, but are willing to accept it. In fact, more than half of the respondents strongly (28%) or somewhat (27%) agreed with the statement: “You believe that being tracked online is the price of using the internet.”

Similarly, the DAA survey results indicate that 47.3% of respondents would be opposed to a law that “restricted how data is used for online advertising, but also potentially reduced the availability of free content such as blogs and video sites.” Opposition to such a law is possibly due more to potential reduction of free content rather than restrictions on the use of data.

Nevertheless, the weight of research tends to favor the attitude that consumers are concerned about their privacy, and may not be willing to trade it for more relevant advertising.

The study results from Consumer Action suggest a certain amount of pessimism on the part of consumers:

  • Only 26% strongly (11%) or somewhat (15%) agreed with the statement “Online marketers consider your privacy when you are online;”
  • Less than half strongly (15%) or somewhat (27%) agreed with the statement “Online marketers are trying to save you time by using tracking to only send you ads about what you need or desire;” and
  • Just 1 in 5 strongly (11%) or somewhat (10%) agreed that “Companies that track you online make it clear what they are doing.”

Several questions in the survey ask about consumers’ desire to have control over tracking online and have their preferences respected. In sum, the results indicate that while consumers are pessimistic about online tracking, they highly value the right to be able to exercise control over data collection.

About the Data: The “Do Not Track” nationwide telephone survey was conducted by ORC International of Princeton, New Jersey, from May 2 through May 5, 2013. The survey population is drawn from two independent, non-overlapping sample groups””one for landlines and one for cell phones””and consists of 1,000 adults (503 men and 507 women), 18 years of age and older, living in the continental U.S. 660 interviews are from the landline sample and 350 interviews are from the cell phone sample.

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