02 October, 2009

New Survey on Privacy and Tailored Advertising

The NY Times has posted a recent survey on tailored advertising (“Contrary to what marketers say, Americans Reject Tailored Advertising and Three Activities that Enable It”) released by professors from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Berkley. It was not a surprised to learn that 2/3 (66%) of Americans do not want online tracking. It was a surprise to learn how many did not understand our privacy laws – most assumed they provided more protection.

First I want to dig into the perceptions of our privacy laws as reported in the survey. If a website had a privacy policy, 62% of the respondents thought that meant that your collected data couldn’t be share with other companies. Another 16% didn’t know. Therefore, only 22% knew that a privacy policy was information the website provides on how they may or may not be using collected data about you. Other misconceptions in regards to privacy policies were as follows.
If a website has a privacy policy…
  • 54% assumed that if requested, the website must delete information about you
  • 46% assumed that they have the right to sue a website for violating the privacy policy
Of the 5 questions in all about online privacy, the average score was 1.5 correct answers.

Offline privacy fared very similarly, as survey participants had bad assumptions too, with an average score of 1.7 of 4. For example, 49% assumed that a store cannot sell your address and phone number without your permission.

This survey also debunked the belief that young adults don’t care about their privacy. The 18 to 24 year old group reported more than half the time (55%) that they do not want tailored advertising. It jumps to 86% of young adults against tailored advertising when it is based on data collected about them across multiple website. The number hits 90% for young adults against tailored advertising when the tailored advertising is as a result from following them across multiple website and offline behaviors.

As I had blogged about recently ("How Safe is Your Data?"), this survey also mentions the difficulty of protecting your privacy on websites through regular deletion of cookies, and how it is even more difficult to remove the Flash cookies.

There is much more information in this survey that makes it a good read for Policymakers, Marketers, and individuals with seeking better understanding of Americans’ expectations and perceptions on their privacy. Clearly people expect companies to take their privacy seriously and it’s an easy way to lose their trust. Americans also have expectations that regulations would be in place to protect their privacy.

If you want to get more involved in driving changes to privacy regulations, there are a number of groups in this space including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Consumers Union, and Center for Digital Democracy, among others. In fact I have found a Legislative Primer, September 2009 (13 pages), “Online Behavioral Tracking and Targeting Concerns and Solutions from the Perspective of Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Consumer Watchdog, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy Lives, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Privacy Times, U.S. Public Interest research Group, The World Privacy Forum.”

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