March 1, 2011, 11:29 AM

Explaining how ad tracking works can help web shoppers accept it

Most online consumers don’t know behavioral data for targeted ads are anonymous.

Lead Photo

The Advertising Option icon.

A new survey finds that while 71% of online consumers understand their behavior is being tracked and used to deliver targeted ads, fewer than half of those consumers, 40%, understand that the collected data are anonymous.

The survey of 500 online consumers, conducted online in early 2011 by research firm Knowledge Networks on behalf of ad services vendor PubMatic, found that when online consumers are informed that the data collected is not tied to an individual, they become more accepting of it. Among consumers who don’t know the data are anonymous, 64% disapprove of having their behavior tracked. When informed that tracking data are anonymous, 40% of the disapprovers then approve.

The online advertising industry is trying to appease consumer privacy concerns through self-regulatory efforts that give consumers more information when an ad is shown to them based on their prior online behavior.

For example, the Advertising Option icon—an “i” with a blue triangle around it—is supposed to be displayed on behaviorally targeted ads placed by marketers that are members of some of the advertising industry’s largest professional organizations, including the Direct Marketing Association, Interactive Advertising Bureau and Association of National Advertisers. Clicking the icon links consumers to information about online behavioral advertising and allows them to opt out of receiving ads based on their online behavior. Online advertisers are hoping that by regulating themselves they can forestall government action, which is under active discussion in Washington.

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