A USA Today/Gallup poll released this week finds strong consumer sentiment in favor of keeping advertisers from tracking their movements on the Web. The news comes at a time when U.S. lawmakers are considering so-called "Do Not Track" legislation that would set limits on how much personal information Web companies can collect on consumers as they surf the Web.
The Federal Trade Commission is considering a Do Not Track measure that would allow Internet users to essentially opt out of online tracking, in a way similar to the "Do Not Call" lists that limit telemarketing calls. In a recent editorial, AdWeek said such a measure would amount to an "apocalypse" for online advertisers given the fast-growing $1.1 billion industry relies on these tactics to track content to users.
In the poll results, 67 percent of Internet users said advertisers should not be allowed to match ads to specific interests based on based on websites the user visited. When asked if such matching, and potential invasion of privacy, was justified to keep access to websites free, some 61 percent said tracking wasn't justified.
There was one bright spot for advertisers in the results. When given the choice, a majority of both young and affluent Americans say they would prefer to allow the advertisers of their choosing to target ads to them -- rather than allow all or no advertisers to do so. Among all Internet users polled, 47 percent gave a preference for allowing advertisers of their choosing provide targeted ads. The oldest and least affluent Americans are the most likely to say they would prefer that no advertisers be allowed to target ads to them.
The survey report said the results show Internet users are overwhelmingly negative about whether it is OK for advertisers to use their online browsing history to target ads to them and suggested they would largely welcome regulation to limit the use of such tactics.
Another interesting aspect of the survey was that the vast majority of Internet users -- including the young and the affluent coveted by advertisers said they do not pay much attention to online ads, though many will admit they have noticed the specific, customized nature of the content.
In an "Implications" section, Gallup's report concludes:
"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. Doing so would limit ads to those users want to see, thus likely increasing the amount of attention users pay to them and decreasing their displeasure with advertisers more broadly."
A semantic ad targeting alternative
"The consumer has clearly spoken and the media is taking notice. It is now time for the industry to make a change," Brooke Aker, chief marketing officer at semantic ad targeting firm ADmantSX, said in an email sent to InternetNews.com. "The opt-out concept continues to bypass privacy by unknowing consumers. An option of opt-in however, quells user fears and promotes an incentive for greater access to content should consumers make that choice."
Aker said ADmantX, currently in beta, provides one alternative for advertisers, a service that looks strictly at the content on the page and analyzes it for people, places, things, emotions and motivations as the means for matching an ad.
"This is semantic targeting technology to the next level," he said. "It is this nexus of content and ad that is at the heart of good online advertising and goes nowhere near 'creepy'," he said.