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Report: Web Users Want Control Over Tracking

26 Jun, 2013 By: Doug McPherson

NEW YORK – A new report from advocacy group Consumer Watch says most Web users’ expectations of privacy are at odds with current practices of ad companies.

“Consumers need to be aware that online companies currently track, collect and share data without asking permission,” states the report based on a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults in May and funded by Microsoft.

Nearly 70 percent of responders said they would not allow companies to track, collect and share data about them in exchange for a free service or product. MediaPost reports that sentiment appears to reflect a misunderstanding about online ad tracking, given that many ad networks currently collect data about Web users – even if they opt out of receiving behaviorally targeted ads. The ad industry often argues that the data collection is justified by free content.

“The poll confirms what we already know: that ‘tracking’ is a loaded word that generates a predictably negative response,” says Lou Mastria, managing director of the ad trade group Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA). “When consumers are presented with the actual value proposition of interest-based advertising, minus the hyperbolic language, surveys demonstrate that they are overwhelmingly receptive to it.”

Mastria adds that the Consumer Action survey results can be explained by the language used in the questions.

Earlier this year, the DAA said that its research shows that 75 percent of consumers would prefer a free, ad-supported Internet to a system where they had to pay for blogs, entertainment sites, video and social media.

Consumer Action also reported that 87 percent said they think they should have the right to control what information about them is collected online. Nearly all respondents – 96 percent – said that advertisers should honor do-not-track signals sent by browsers.

All of the major browser manufacturers, including survey-funder Microsoft, currently offer do-not-track settings, but the ad industry is still evaluating how to respond to the settings, MediaPost reports.

Many in the ad industry maintain companies should be able to collect data for market research purposes and analytics even when users say they don't want to be tracked. The ad industry also says that it should be able to ignore do-not-track settings from Microsoft's Internet Explorer 10, because the company turns those on by default.

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