Study: People Don’t Like What You Do For a Living

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woman_blogs_small.jpgADOTAS – The average American is “skeptical” about Web sites that use information about a person’s online activity to customize content, according to a recent Harris Interactive study. But when introduced to four potential recommendations for improving Web sites’ privacy and security policies, they become “somewhat” more comfortable with the sites’ use of personal information.

A few key findings:
•    A six in 10 majority (59%) are not comfortable when websites like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft (MSN) use information about a person’s online activity to tailor advertisements or content based on a person’s hobbies or interests. A quarter (25%) is not at all comfortable and 34% are not very comfortable;
•    The remaining 41% who say that are comfortable with Web sites tailoring content is split between 7% who are very comfortable and 34% who are somewhat comfortable.

“Web sites 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, professor of public law and government emeritus at Columbia University, principal of the Privacy Consulting Group, in a release. “Though our question flagged this position, 59% of current online users clearly do not accept it.”

After four privacy/security policies were introduced, U.S. adults did change their opinions, Harris found:
•    By 55% to 45%, a majority of U.S. adults indicates that they would be more comfortable with companies using information about a person’s online activities to provide customized advertising or content;
•    Interestingly, once the privacy/security policies were presented the percentages of those who are very comfortable increases only very slightly to 9% from 7%. The percentage who are somewhat comfortable given the privacy/security policies increases more significantly to 46% from 34%;
•    Similarly, those who are not at all comfortable decline to 19% from 25%, and those who are not very comfortable decline to 26% from 34%.

“The failure of a larger percentage of respondents to express comfort after four privacy policies were specified may have two bases – concerns that web companies would actually follow voluntary guidelines, even if they espoused them, and the absence of any regulatory or enforcement mechanism in the privacy policy steps outlined in the question,” Westin said.

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