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    New York Times: Two-Thirds of Americans Object to Online Tracking

    The New York Times reports on a new survey (pdf) from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California-Berkeley that finds, “Contrary to what many marketers claim, most adult Americans (66%) do not want marketers to tailor advertisements to their interests. 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.”

    Behavioral targeting involves two types of activities: following users’ actions and then tailoring advertisements for the users based on those actions. 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.

    We conducted this survey to determine which view Americans hold. In high percentages, they stand on the side of privacy advocates. That is the case even among young adults whom advertisers often portray as caring little about information privacy.

    The New York Times explains, “The study’s authors hired a survey company to conduct interviews with 1,000 adult Internet users. The interview, which lasted about 20 minutes, included questions like ‘Please tell me whether or not you want the Web sites you visit to give you discounts that are tailored to your interests.’ The results were later adjusted to reflect Census Bureau patterns in categories like sex, age, population density and telephone usage.”

    The survey also found:

    • 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.

    I urge you to read the survey, “Americans Reject Tailored Advertising and Three Activities That Enable It” (pdf) for yourself. You’ll likely be startled by the findings.

    One Response to “New York Times: Two-Thirds of Americans Object to Online Tracking”

    1. Jim Says:

      “Startled,” indeed. Startled is how many people feel when they see the privacy scorecards for their favorite sites. See at

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