Survey: Web Users Less Wary of Behavioral Targeting

  |  March 5, 2009   |  Comments

Fewer people find practice disturbing, according to research by TRUSTe.

Nearly 84 percent of people find less than a quarter of the ads they see on the Web are relevant to their desires, says a new study. Nearly 69 percent said they know their browsing information is probably being watched and collected for advertising purposes.

The figures come from a new "Behavioral Targeting Survey Report" published by TRUSTe. The researchers found that, with widespread knowledge about behavioral targeting, consumer uneasiness about the practice seems to be declining. According to TRUSTe, 57 percent of people surveyed in 2008 said they found behavioral targeting to be disturbing while 51 percent felt that way this year.

"One surprise is that over the last 12 months, consumers are actually increasing in comfort about it," said TRUSTe VP of Strategic Partnerships and Programs Colin O'Malley. "People still remain concerned, but over time, as awareness increases, discomfort decreases." O'Malley said advertisers "should seize the opportunity to become more transparent" about their targeting practices. Attempting to hide those efforts is likely to erode any acceptance gained so far, he said.

The whole goal of behavioral targeting is to present the right ads to the right people. The TRUSTe study found the feeling is mutual, as 72 percent of the people surveyed said online advertising is intrusive and annoying when the ads held no relevance to their wants and needs. "Consumers are very aware of the targeting," said O'Malley. "They are concerned about the targeting, yet they desire relevance. There's been a lot of discussion about that value proposition in the industry for half a decade, but that dialog has not been with the consumers."

O'Malley suggested advertisers do subtle things to inform Web users about what's going on. For example, a targeted banner ad might carry an explanation acknowledging the advertiser was gathering anonymous tracking information that resulted in the banner being displayed.

While about 75 percent of the people surveyed said they know how to protect their personal information while online, 39 percent said they didn't bother. About 35 percent said they felt their privacy was violated during the past year due to information they provided on the Web, according to TRUSTe. O'Malley said people are more comfortable with ad tracking on e-commerce sites they trust and use frequently, such as Amazon, than they are with social networking sites.

The study found that only about 31 percent of respondents said they were comfortable having their browsing activity captured by Web sites that wanted to use the information to improve user experiences. More than half said they would register online to prevent advertisers from tracking their activity even if it meant they would be delivered less-relevant ads, and 68 percent said they'd use a browser feature that could block ads, content and tracking code not originating on the site they're viewing.

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