The New York Times covered an independent survey of 1,000 Americans that reveals that 66% of people do not want online ads that are personally targeted for them. The percentage went even higher when they explained to people the methods used to do this targeting such as tracking their behavior on the web and even in offline stores. As Congress and the FTC looks harder at privacy matters in online advertising, should online marketers be scared of studies like this?
The quick answer is that yes, they should. Anytime there is major publicity for a study such as this it’s going to add fuel to the fire of privacy advocates and people in the government who are weary of online advertising. The reality of the matter is that this study is somewhat deceptive and that there will most likely be a happy medium in the future between people’s privacy (or lack thereof) and the marketers trying to reach them.
I think this study or at least the way it’s being covered by the media is deceptive because of the question “Do you want ads tailored to your interests?”. Very few people actually PREFER ads to having no ads at all right? If you changed this question to “Do you want ads on the websites you visit?” you’d probably get a similar 66% result or worse. If you changed this question to “Would you rather get an ad to punch a monkey, or an ad with a discount for that coat you were shopping for earlier this week” I’m pretty sure the answer would be that they’d prefer the tailored ad over the generic ad.
The study also pointed out that the 66% gets even worse when people are told how those tailored ads can happen due to their behavior being tracked on the web and in offline stores. For people who are not very familiar or comfortable with how advertising on the web works and what happens with the data that is collected, this tracking sounds very scary. Their natural assumption is to believe there is some easily readable record that has their name and contact information along with all the exact things they did on the web. The reality is that the above board companies are keeping this data non-personally identifiable and that no human actually ever really looks at the data. Like most people I’m interested in privacy, but after years in the industry and knowing how this information is used I’d much rather have ads that are tailored to me based on my browsing behavior than generic ads that have no value.
There are far more dangerous things that can be done with data from the web by far more dangerous people than advertising companies. People should be much more concerned about that than behavioral targeting.
The bottom line is though that there isn’t enough consumer control over what data is exposed, to who, and why. This is where I think the happy medium will come in the future. People will become more comfortable when they understand it and are given more control over their data. Education is the key, and online marketers and advertising companies need to lead this educational effort.