Research Roundup

University of Pennsylvania Almanac


Americans Reject Tailored Advertising

Contrary to what many marketers claim, most Americans do not want online advertisements tailored by marketers to their specific interests, according to a consumer privacy study by the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology at UC Berkeley School of Law (Berkeley Law), and the Annenberg School for Communication at Penn. In Americans Reject Tailored Advertising and Three Activities that Enable It, 66% of adult Americans reject tailored ads. Not only that, when informed of three common ways that marketers collect information to target the ads, even higher percentages—between 73% and 86%—say they don’t want tailored advertising.

The study is the first nationally representative telephone (wireline and wireless, n=1000) survey that explores Americans’ opinions about behavioral targeting, a controversial issue now under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission and other government policymakers. Behavioral targeting ads are produced by following users’ actions over time and then creating sales pitches based on those actions. The report also presents Americans’ understanding of and attitudes toward privacy laws.

Dr. Joseph Turow, lead author and the Robert Lewis Shayon Professor of Communication of the Annenberg School, noted that even a majority of young adults do not want tailored advertising. “More than half of 18-24 year olds reject it. Contrary to consistent assertions by marketers, young adults have as strong an aversion to being followed online as do older adults.”

The Berkeley-Annenberg team found that 92% of those polled agree there should be a law that requires “websites and advertising companies to delete all stored information about an individual, if requested to do so.” Sixty-three percent believe advertisers should be legally required to delete information about their internet activity immediately, whether requested or not.

Co-authors of the report are Jennifer King, a former research fellow with Berkeley Law and Chris Hoofnagle, a lecturer and research fellow at Berkeley Law.