Consumers Don’t Like This Trackin’ Business

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survey_smallADOTAS – In the fantastically titled commentary, “Internet Users Want No Tracking, A Pony,” Business Insider’s Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry calls a recent Gallup/USA Today telephone poll of 1,019 adults aged 18 and older (69% making at least $75,000 annually) on behavioral targeting meaningless, arguing it only exhibits the public’s lack of knowledge about online tracking. I agree to an extent, but there is something to be gleaned out of the numbers — what users really want is a choice, and one that’s upfront. How to make that a reality is the issue.

When asked “Should advertisers be allowed to match ads to you specific interests based on websites you have visited?” 67% said I don’t think so, buster. In addition, 61% also said such methods are not justified for keeping Internet content free, while only 35% argued the opposite.

Given a choice about who could target you, 14% would allow all ad networks to target them, 47% would allow only selected ad networks and 37% said they would let none. Age seems to play a roll in opinion — 57% of those aged 18 to 34 and 48% of those aged 35 to 54 said they wanted a choice of who targeted them, while 45% of those 55 or older wanted no one to target them.

Somehow I don’t think consumers are going to analyze the hundreds of companies in the behavioral targeting space one-by-one to pick out who gets to target advertising at them. However, as I mentioned on Monday, users could decide by publisher — if you want such and such content on so and so site, you can pay cash or with your browsing data. The onus would be on the publisher to employ reputable data collectors and targeters, and likely display them prominently.

The choice is the key thing here — just like when Facebook set privacy defaults to “share share share,” the consumer anger is about being forced into a system and having to opt out. So how hard would it be to establish an opt-in system by publisher?

Give users the choice between paying cash for Internet content or paying with browsing data, and they will flock to the latter. Either choice is a win for publishers and consumers will feel they know what they’re getting into.

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