This nationally representative telephone (wire-line and cell phone) survey explores Americans’ opinions about behavioral targeting by marketers, a controversial issue currently before government policymakers. Behavioral targeting involves two types of activities: following users’ actions and then tailoring advertisements for the users based on those actions. While privacy advocates have lambasted behavioral targeting for tracking and labeling people in ways they do not know or understand, marketers have defended the practice by insisting it gives Americans what they want: advertisements and other forms of content that are as relevant to their lives as possible.
Contrary to what many marketers claim, most adult Americans (66%) do not want marketers to tailor advertisements to their interests. Moreover, when Americans are informed of three common ways that marketers gather data about people in order to tailor ads, even higher percentages – between 73% and 86% – say they would not want such advertising. Even among young adults, whom advertisers often portray as caring little about information privacy, more than half (55%) of 18-24 years-old do not want tailored advertising. And contrary to consistent assertions of marketers, young adults have as strong an aversion to being followed across websites and offline (for example, in stores) as do older adults.
This survey finds that Americans want openness with marketers. If marketers want to continue to use various forms of behavioral targeting in their interactions with Americans, they must work with policymakers to open up the process so that individuals can learn exactly how their information is being collected and used, and then exercise control over their data. We offer specific proposals in this direction. An overarching one is for marketers to implement a regime of information respect toward the public rather than to treat them as objects from which they can take information in order to optimally persuade them.