December 29, 2010, 4:23 PM

Online consumers favor a ‘Do Not Track’ policy

A Gallup poll finds 67% of U.S. Internet users oppose behavioral targeting of web ads.

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67% of U.S. Internet users would welcome the “Do Not Track” policy proposed by the Federal Trade Commission to prevent advertisers from tracking their online behavior and showing them targeted ads, according to a recent USA Today/Gallup poll.

FTC officials testified recently before Congress that consumers should have a persistent option to click a “Do Not Track” button in their web browsers to prevent advertisers and online ad networks from tracking browsing activity. The advertising industry plans to launch its own advertising privacy program next month.

In the USA Today/Gallup poll, 30% of respondents answered “yes” and 67% said “no” when asked: “Should advertisers be allowed to match ads to your specific interests based on web sites you have visited?” The telephone poll of 1,019 randomly selected adults was conducted Dec. 10-13.

The poll found, however, that consumers were somewhat more open to online tracking and targeted ads if they would get something in return for that invasion of their privacy, namely free entry to web sites that might otherwise have to charge for access. This acceptance was higher among younger and wealthier consumers.

35% of all respondents said the invasion of privacy was worth free access to web sites, a percentage that stood at 40% for consumers 18-34-years-old, 37% for consumers 35-54 and 31% for those 55 and older.

By income levels, 40% of consumers with incomes of $75,000 or more supported tracking in exchange for free web site access, as did 39% of those with income of $30,000-$74,999 and 27% of those with income of less than $30,000.

Support for online tracking and targeting increases even more among consumers when they’re given a choice among three options: to restrict the practice only to advertisers they choose, to allow it among all advertisers, or to prohibit it among all advertisers.

The largest percentage of respondents, 47%, said they would prefer to allow advertisers of their choosing to track and target them with ads, followed by 37% who would prohibit it for all advertisers and 14% who would allow it among all advertisers. Again, younger and more affluent consumers were more likely to support tracking and targeting by chosen advertisers.

The poll also shows, however, that while 61% of Internet users say they have noticed targeted ads based on web sites they have visited, 90% of Internet users say they don’t pay much attention to those ads—a level that stays fairly constant among different age and income groups.

One lesson for advertisers, Gallup suggests, is that they should focus on the consumers who are most likely to respond to online ads.

“Because young and affluent Internet users appear amenable to targeted advertising from the advertisers they specifically choose, advertisers may be best advised to consciously ask users if they are willing to get customized advertisements from them,” Gallup says in a report on the poll.


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