The FTC, Obama administration and Congress have all weighed in recently on the need to better regulate how online advertisers collect users’ data on the Web. And now a new poll has given voice to the opinions of those very Internet users the government wants to protect. And the message to online advertisers is clear: do not track me.
61 percent of U.S. Internet users reported noticing that some online ads appear to be targeted at them based on their Web-browsing habits, but 90 percent said they pay little or no attention to those online ads, according to the newly released Gallup poll.
When asked if advertisers should be allowed to match ads to people’s specific interests based on other websites they’ve previously visited, a clear majority, 67 percent, said no, compared with 30 percent who said yes.
The poll of 840 adult Internet users was conducted Dec. 10-12 by USA Today and Gallup Inc.
Web users “are overwhelmingly negative about whether it is OK for advertisers to use their online browsing history to target ads to them, suggesting they would largely welcome regulation to limit the use of such tactics,” Gallup stated in a post about the poll.
Gallup’s poll comes as the national debate over privacy and tracking of Internet users continues to gain steam.
On December 1st, one week before the poll was conducted, the Federal Trade Commission called for a “Do Not Track” system to protect Internet users, similar to the “Do Not Call” registry currently used to regulate telephone marketing.
And, just last week, the Obama administration called for a “privacy bill of rights” and a new, federal office to regulate how advertisers collect data online.
Online advertisers have defended their practices by arguing that the public might not understand how much this advertising fuels free websites.
But the poll found that argument did not hold sway with Internet users, 61 percent of whom said tracking is not justified even if the practice makes it possible to offer Web sites for free. An additional 37 percent of respondents said they would opt out of all online ad targeting if they could.
That response may be bad news for the advertising industry, which introduced its own, voluntary opt-out program earlier this year. The fact that such a low percentage of Internet users are aware that such an opt-out option already exists may hurt the industry’s argument that self-regulation is enough, with no federal regulation needed.
The overall message from the poll is that users want more control over tracking and how they’re targeted.
More specifically, respondents were asked if they’d prefer to allow all advertising networks to target ads, none to target ads or “only those advertising networks you choose.” Nearly half, 47%, preferred being able to select networks that could target ads; 37% did not want any targeted ads and 14% said they would allow all targeted ads.