March 9, 2012, 9:03 AM

Consumers like search, but shy away from personalized results and ads

A Pew study sheds light on how much targeted advertising consumers will accept.

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More than two-thirds, or 68%, of U.S. Internet users say they dislike receiving ads targeted to them based on their prior online behavior because they don’t want their behavior tracked and analyzed, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

The study also revealed that 65% of Americans think it’s a bad idea for search engines like Google to serve them search results based on their individual search histories, as consumers  believe doing so may limit the information they see. Consumers also don’t want search engines collecting and analyzing their search behavior; 73% say they consider doing so an invasion of privacy

Pew collected the data via phone interviews conducted in January and February with 2,253 adults.  The survey found that search engines play an increasingly larger role in everyday life. 54% of survey respondents say they used a search engine yesterday, up from 35% who said the same in 2004. Consumers most likely to have used search within a day of the survey are young, college-educated and have household incomes of at least $50,000.

More than half of American web users, or 52%, say search results have become more useful and relevant over time. 40% say they have not seen a change over time and about 7% say they find search results are getting less relevant. Despite more than half of respondents saying search results have become more useful and relevant, Americans continue to dislike personalized search results; only 29% say personalized search results are a good thing because they provide results that are more relevant to them. When it comes to targeted advertisements, only 28% say they are okay with them, compared with the 68% who disliked them. (3% had no opinion.)

“Search engines are increasingly important to people in their navigation of information spaces, but users are generally uncomfortable with the idea of their search histories being used to target information to them,” says Kristen Purcell, one of the authors of the report.

Google is by far the most popular search engine with consumers. 83% of survey participants say they use Google most often for searches. This is up from 47% who said the same in 2004. In 2004, 26% of consumers cited Yahoo Inc. as the engine they used most often; today that has shrunk to 6%, although Yahoo remains in second place as the engine consumers say they most often use to search the web. Search results on and other Yahoo web properties are provided by Microsoft Corp.’s Bing search engine.

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