The study, though, has some serious flaws. The first one is that it doesn’t reflect average Web users. If you use Ghostery, you’re a rare kind of privacy geek. And because the survey is self selecting – ie, limited to Ghostery users who agreed to participate in its anonymous data collection program – the results aren’t projectable to the general Web surfing population.
The second major flaw is that this study is hardly impartial. Evidon’s has got a dog in this hunt. It is the creator of oversees the Digital Advertising Alliances' Ad Choices program, which places little blue triangles on ads that you can click to get more information about who’s tracking you and what kind of information they’re collecting. Evidon is one of the key players behind the ad industry’s aggressive attempts to avoid Do Not Track legislation.
The report also takes several swipes at press coverage of Do Not Track, in particular the Wall Street Journal’s brilliant “What They Know” series. Colin O’Malley, chief strategy officer for Evidon, writes:
The tone of press coverage has often been alarming. Many in the industry would say that consumer perception of their capacity for personalized content and advertising far outpaces reality. Nonetheless, consumer concern is real, and it’s driving regulatory attention to the topic in both the US and the EU, especially over the last four years. And while many in the industry would like to pin the blame on the press, this report establishes that tracking is in fact widespread on the internet, typically by dozens of companies on a single site.
O’Malley is no doubt correct when he says that people have an unrealistic notion of what online tracking is, or how much advertisers can really know about you. As I’ve noted previously at TY4NS, these profiles can be laughably inaccurate. (In one, I am a transgender senior citizen interested in games and toys.)