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BizReport : Research : April 14, 2008

Survey: Internet users find ad targeting "creepy"

Almost 60% of U.S. adults surveyed by Harris Interactive said they were uncomfortable with websites using information about their browsing habits to determine which ads and content they are served up.

by Helen Leggatt

According to Info-Tech Research Group analyst Michelle Warren, Internet users find ad and content targeting “creepy” as they are unaware of what’s going on behind the scenes. Once online users start to realize that page content and advertising is clearly tailored towards them they begin to question exactly what information has been gathered and exactly what it’s being used for.

"What happens is people suddenly realize they've put out enough personal information to get served with a targeted advertisement, and the Web makes the transition from convenience to creepiness," said Colin McKay, of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada in Ottawa.

Promises of a better online experience in return for data collection don’t wash well with Internet users either. “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,” said Dr Alan F Westin, who collaborated with Harris Interactive on the survey.

“Though our question flagged this position, 59 percent of current online users clearly do not accept it.”

Even a suite of “potential policy and security policies” wasn’t enough to sway levels of comfort to any great extent, found Harris Interactive’s survey.

Tags: behavioral targeting, online advertising, privacy

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