October 01, 2009, 10:48 AM — Contrary to the claims of online marketers, most U.S. residents do not want to receive Web advertising tailored to their interests, according to a study released Wednesday by two universities.
Sixty-six percent of those surveyed don't want tailored, or targeted, online ads, according to the study, from the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology at the University of California Berkeley School of Law and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
Asked if online ad vendors should deliver targeted ads by tracking customers' behavior across multiple Web sites, 86 percent of the 1,000 respondents said no.
"While privacy advocates have lambasted behavioral targeting for tracking and labeling people in ways they do not know or understand, marketers have defended the practice by insisting it gives Americans what they want: advertisements and other forms of content that are as relevant to their lives as possible," the study said. "In high percentages, [U.S. residents] stand on the side of privacy advocates."
Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, called the new survey "meaningful" and suggested that it may drive U.S. lawmakers to focus more on new privacy laws. The report could also prompt online marketers to take a new look at their own policies, he said.
"It gives you a sense that consumers really want their privacy protected," he said. "They're very concerned about their personal information being used, especially in ways they're not aware of."
Thirty-five percent of respondents said executives of companies that use personal information illegally should face jail time, and 18 percent said those companies should be put out of business.
The new study seems to conflict with the results of a March survey by Internet privacy services vendor TRUSTe.
The TRUSTe survey found that two out of three consumers were aware that their browsing information may be collected by a third party for advertising purposes. In addition, the survey found that 51 percent of those surveyed were uncomfortable with behavioral advertising, compared to 57 percent in 2008.
"Statistics are a funny thing," said Mike Zaneis, vice president for public policy at the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), a trade group for online marketers. "[TRUSTe] too polled over a thousand consumers, but focused on online users, the very constituency who might have legitimate privacy concerns about online behavioral advertising. TRUSTe’s results were strikingly different."