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Study Shows Opposition to Tailored Marketing

Issued: October 01 2009

Contrary to what many marketers claim, most Americans do not want online advertisements tailored by marketers to their specific interests, say researchers from the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology at the University of California Berkeley School of Law and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.


The consumer privacy study, Americans Reject Tailored Advertising, was released September 30 and shows that 66% of adults said no to tailored ads. Not only that, the report says, when informed of specific behavioral-targeting techniques that marketers employ to create the ads, even higher percentages – between 73% and 86% – oppose tailored advertising. Those techniques include tracking behavior on websites and in retail stores.


The study is the first nationally-representative telephone survey that explores Americans’ opinions about behavioral targeting, a controversial issue now under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission and government policymakers. Behavioral targeting involves two types of activities: following consumers’ actions and then tailoring advertisements for the consumers 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. “This study finds that in high percentages, Americans stand on the side of privacy advocates,” said lead author Joseph Turow, a professor at the Annenberg School.


Although the study found that younger American adults are less likely to reject tailored advertising, more than half (54%) of 18-24 year-olds rejected it.


The Berkeley-Annenberg team found that 92 percent of those polled 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. Sixty-three percent believe advertisers should be legally required to delete information about their internet activity immediately, whether requested or not.


“When it comes to privacy and the internet, many Americans think they have far more protections than the law actually offers them,” said co-author Jennifer King, a former research fellow with Berkeley Law. “This is a strong signal to regulators that more clarity is needed regarding how the public’s information is protected online.”


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