Almost three-quarters of people responding to a survey said they're aware of behavioral targeting, though far fewer know it by that name.
The results were published in a report, "2008 Study: Consumer Attitudes About Behavioral Targeting," that was independently conducted last month by TNS Global on behalf of consumer privacy organization TRUSTe. About 1,200 people participated.
Seventy-one percent of respondents said they are aware information about their online activity is being collected by third parties for advertising purposes. However, only 40 percent said they know the term "behavioral targeting," says the study.
TNS Global found that 57 percent of the people surveyed said they are not comfortable with advertisers using their browsing history to serve ads even when they believe their names and other personal information is not being revealed. Fifty-four percent said they delete their cookies at least twice monthly.
"These statistics indicate a high level of discomfort with the idea of tracking, despite industry reassurances that the information is entirely anonymous," says the report.
Carolyn Hodge, TRUSTe's VP of communications, said she believes the study marks the first time anybody bothered to ask -- in a scientific, structured fashion -- what people think about behavioral targeting for online ad purposes.
"First of all TRUSTe is following this issue from a privacy perspective," said Hodge, noting TRUSTe works with "companies that represent the entire value chain" including advertisers, ad networks, publishers and portals.
"I think that behavioral targeting is still a pretty small part of the overall advertising being done on the Internet," said Hodge. "At least, from what we can tell, advertisers would like to be doing more behavioral targeting but they are still hesitant because of consumer issues around privacy."
Fifty-five percent of respondents said they would be willing to fill out an anonymous survey about the products, services and brands they buy if it would limit, to just those products, services and brands, the online ads they are served. However, 19 percent "decidedly would not," according to the report.
Hodge said the report shows that consumers "obviously want customized experiences and relevant advertisingÃÂ¢Ã¯Â¿Â½ÃÂ¦ from brands they trust." However, there will be a lot of mistrust about the behavioral targeting methods unless those in the industry do more to educate Internet users, she said.
Noting that users of Amazon.com seem to have embraced that site's use of behavioral targeting to deliver customized recommendations, Hodge said a solution to the problem is possible.
"Unfortunately, I donÃÂ¢Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã¯Â¿Â½t have the silver bullet for it," she conceded. "But there are some good models out there taking place. It's definitely TRUSTe's position that all the companies benefitting from behavioral targeting need to be working together to make sure consumers feel like they understand more about what's happening."
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