By Somini Sengupta, The New York Times
BERKELEY, Calif. — As marketers, browser makers and government
regulators spar over efforts to let consumers limit custom advertising
online, a new study suggests that Americans are largely unaware of what
that means and have a strong aversion to being tracked online.
The majority of Americans surveyed by researchers at the Berkeley Center
for Law and Technology, which is part of the law school at the
University of California, Berkeley, do not want information collected at
all about which Web sites they visit, according to the study, which is to be released at the Amsterdam Privacy Conference on Monday.
Most of them said they did not find online advertisements useful. And
nearly 90 percent said they had never heard of a proposal by the Federal
Trade Commission, known as a “do not track” mechanism, that would let
users opt out of having their personal data collected for the purposes
of serving tailored advertisements.
survey, financed by a grant from Nokia, presented a series of multiple
choice questions on the telephone to 1,230 Internet users in the United
The survey asked respondents: “If a ‘do not track’ option were available
to you when browsing the Internet, which of the following things would
you most want it to do?”
Sixty percent said they prefer regulation to “prevent Web sites from
collecting information” about them; 20 percent said such a tool should
allow them to block Web sites from serving up ads; and 14 percent said
they would like it to “prevent Web sites from tailoring advertisements”
based on sites they had visited. (The remaining 6 percent said they did
not know or declined to answer.)
One in five told the researchers that they believed advertisers were not
allowed to track people when they browsed medical sites. Four in 10 did
not know or declined to answer, while a third correctly said that they
could be tracked by marketers.
The survey also asked how useful consumers found search and banner
advertisements. Two-thirds said they found it “never” or “hardly ever”
useful, while 30 percent said “often” or “sometimes.” Eight-five percent
said they “never” or “hardly ever” clicked on an advertisement.
Data mining companies have grown increasingly sophisticated at analyzing
consumer behavior both online and offline, through bits of computer
code online or loyalty cards and nascent mobile payment options at
brick-and-mortar stores. Such data is extremely valuable for
advertisers, along with digital platforms like Facebook and Google that
survive on advertising dollars.
The authors of the study argued that the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed mechanism was “a modest intervention.”