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Harris Interactive: Most U.S. Adults Uncomfortable With Web Sites That Customize Content Based On Visitors' Personal Profiles

If you have followed the prior posts on behavioral targeting (a/k/a behavioral advertising), then I think that you, too, will find the results of this recent Harris Interactive poll very interesting:

"A majority of U.S. adults are skeptical about the practice of websites using information about a person's online activity to customize website content. However, after being introduced to four potential recommendations for improving websites privacy and security polices, U.S. adults become somewhat more comfortable with the websites use of personal information."

The nationwide survey included 2,513 U.S. adults, and was performed between March 11 and 18, 2008 by Harris Interactive, in collaboration with Dr. Alan F. Westin, Professor of Public Law and Government Emeritus at Columbia University, Principal of the Privacy Consulting Group. Additional key findings:

"A six in ten majority (59%) are not comfortable when websites like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft (MSN) use information about a person's online activity to tailor advertisements or content based on a person's hobbies or interests. A quarter (25%) is not at all comfortable and 34 percent are not very comfortable..."

Westin and the researchers reported:

"Websites pursuing customized or behavioral marketing maintain that the benefits to online users that advertising revenues make possible -- such as free emails or free searches and potential lessening of irrelevant ads -- should persuade most online users that this is a good tradeoff. Though our question flagged this position, 59 percent of current online users clearly do not accept it."

Ha! Good for consumers! The promise of free content and only relevant ads isn't the strong magnet that companies and advertisers would like to believe. Plus, after showing the survey participants a list of potential policy and security policies, based on self-regulatory guidelines by the FTC, the adults changed their opinions slightly:

  • "By 55 to 45 percent, a majority of U.S. adults indicates that they would be more comfortable with companies using information about a person's online activities to provide customized advertising or content;
  • Interestingly, once the privacy/security policies were presented the percentages of those who are very comfortable increases only very slightly to 9 percent from 7 percent. The percentage who are somewhat comfortable given the privacy/security policies increases more significantly to 46 percent from 34 percent;
  • Similarly, those who are not at all comfortable decline to 19 percent from 25 percent, and those who are not very comfortable decline to 26 percent from 34 percent."

Adult consumers are beginning to place a higher value on their personal data, combined with an approach that companies must first earn their trust before sharing confidential personal data. I encourage you to read the complete Harris Interactive press release.


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