Survey: Net Users Easing Up on the Cookie Hate

Marketers expressed some dismay last year when a series of studies found a previously unmeasured hatred for cookies in the heart of many an Internet user — and a common predilection to delete them.

People worried by that discovery can perhaps breathe a little easier in the wake of a new survey finding that only 8 percent of respondents delete cookies “very frequently,” compared with 18 percent in a 2004 survey. Additionally, 24 percent said they never delete cookies, more than double what was measured in the previous study.

The poll of 1,700 Internet users was conducted by The Ponemon Institute and sponsored by behavioral targeting vendor Revenue Science.

The study also examined consumer perceptions of and desire for relevant advertising targeted to their interests. Sixty-three percent said online marketers should “always” grasp their interests before advertising to them. Fifty-five percent said Web advertising suited to their interests “improves” or “greatly improves” their overall online experience. And 86 percent would rather accept relevant advertising than pay for content, a lift of 7 percent from the 2004 research.

While the findings would seem to indicate a growing consumer acceptance of ads targeted on behavior, the survey did not explicitly ask how Web users feel about ads served based on previous surfing habits.

But the results do suggest a markedly improved perception of cookies from what JupiterResearch measured a year ago, when almost 40 percent of Internet users told the analyst firm they delete cookies on at least a monthly basis.

That finding sparked widespread concern that the unique user counts and reach metrics for many sites and interactive campaigns were inflated, while frequency metrics were lowballed. It also raised worries that behavioral targeting could fall short of its great expectations.

Many believed the fear and loathing of cookies was driven by consumer concern over the threat of spyware and the blanket use of that term to describe a variety of Web measurement techniques, including these ubiquitous little text files.

Additionally, a number of anti-spyware companies had at the time begun referring to cookies as spyware, clumping them in with the same company as the shady perpetrators of drive-by ActiveX adware downloads.

“There are always privacy concerns. For example, when you’re tracking someone’s behavior, there’s that old feeling: What’s really going on?” said Larry Ponemon, founder of the Ponemon Institute. “But people are starting to accept the fact that they have anonymity, and the anonymity gives them comfort.”

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