“Study Finds Broad Wariness Over Online Tracking” is the headline The New York Times put on its story about the results of a new survey by researchers at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology. “Study Finds Broad Ignorance Over Online Tracking” would have worked just as well.
A poll of 1,203 adults demonstrated three things.
- Americans DON'T like the idea that marketers are collecting data about their online behavior and shopping habits.
- Americans DON'T have the foggiest understanding of how their data is being collected and what can be done to limit that collection.
- Americans ARE confused about what they actually want.
Anyone trying to gauge Americans’ feelings about tracking quickly runs into the ignorance problem. What can you really learn by asking people how they feel about something they didn’t know anything about until you asked them about it?
Since only 13 percent of survey participants had ever heard of the Do Not Track initiative, the Berkeley researchers were forced to resort to a hypothetical: What do you think choosing an option that calls itself “Do Not Track” ought to entail? Here’s how they answered.
When they can be bothered to think about, then, most people feel like they should have the option to choose not to have any of their online behaviors monitored in any way, even though that’s not remotely what current Do Not Track proposals seek to provide. (Nor, need it be said, is the capacity to opt out of internet advertising altogether.)
But for the most part they can’t be bothered to think about it. Maybe that’s because so many of them are laboring under the false belief that they’re being tracked far less than they are. Asked whether advertisers must first obtain an internet user’s permission before tracking them across multiple sites, a plurality of respondents believed that to be the case.
The researchers asked specifically about medical websites, assuming participants would be more mindful of privacy considerations in such a sensitive context.
So most people think they’re being tracked less than they are, but would like to be tracked even less than they think they’re being. At the same time, they’d like not to be bothered by irrelevant ads. Asked how often they find ads useful, 69% of respondents said either “hardly ever” or “never,” leading the researchers to conclude that support for Do Not Track might be rooted in “an aversion to advertising more generally,” not just privacy concerns.
Of course, it’s behavioral tracking and targeting that allows advertisers to serve users the kinds of ads they’ll find relevant.
To summarize: Consumers would like advertisers to serve them ads that are more relevant to their lives, but without knowing anything about those lives. Alternatively, they’d like to see no ads at all. But don’t take away their free content. They like that.
COMMENTARY: The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been involved in oversight of the behavioral targeting techniques used by online advertisers since the mid-1990s. These techniques, known initially as online profiling, and now known as behavioral targeting, are used to target online behavioral advertising (OBA) to consumers based on preferences inferred from their online behavior.
During the period from the mid-1990s to the present, the FTC held a series of workshops, published a number of reports and gave numerous recommendations regarding both industry self-regulation and Federal regulation of OBA. In late 2010, the FTC proposed a legislative framework for US consumer data privacy including a proposal for a “Do Not Track” mechanism. In 2011, a number of bills were introduced into the United States Congress that would regulate OBA, but they have been bogged down and are now dead because legislators are in the pockets of special interest groups and corporations who need that data and will go to any means to get it.
As a digital researcher, I am often asked to subscribe in order to use a website or download information from websites by completing a questionnaire. This involves using a legitimate email address, and confirmation of same before I can proceed. I have often profiled companies on my blog, and to this date have been tracked to other websites where one of their display ads is waiting for me. This can be very annoying, but I have learned to ignore them.
Cookies are the culprits to all this underhanded data gathering by marketers. Cookies are written to a special directory of your browser and are unique to you. If your cookies are turned on in your web browsers internet settings, web publishers immediately know who you are, and all of the data gathering happens seamlessly.
Something similar is happening in the real world. I also participate in a number of loyalty programs, and when I buy things, am able to save money on future purchases by accumulating points, and am often provided offers in the form of coupons to purchase competing products to those I regularly buy. So there is really no easy way to avoid being tracked in the digital or real worlds.
If you are a Facebook, Twitter or Google+ user you can bet that they are all gathering information about us and tracking us whereever we are. With the advent of mobile devices like cellular phones and tablets, they can track us on the go. The question remains: What are they doing with all that information? How can this affect me in the future? Will advertisers benefit from getting their hands on my private information? YES, Facebook is already providing advertisers with data about our shopping habits, and using this information to help them target you.
If I were Facebook and Twitter, or any social network relying on an ad-supported revenue model for the majority of its revenue, it would worry me a lot knowing that 69% of respondents surveyed said either “hardly ever” or “never,” on the question of how often they found ads useful. This compares very favorably with previous polls conducted by other researchers about user sentiment towards Facebook ads.
Not mentioned in the above, are recent developments that many mobile apps are tracking our geographic locations through our cell phones. If you do not wish to be tracked this way, I highly recommend that you turnoff the location settings in your cell phone, or just turnoff the power. As Facebook dwelves deeper into our "mobile lifestyles," they will be able to accumulate huge amounts of data about its users. So if you bought something through Facebook through your smartphone, they know it, and that information is passed on to its advertisers, who will try to sell you more of the same things.
Courtesy of an artice dated October 8, 2012 appearing in Forbes