31 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2012
Date Written: August 16, 2010
This paper presents empirical data on American adult Internet users’ knowledge about and perceptions of Internet advertising techniques. We present the results of in-depth interviews and an online survey focusing on participants’ views of online advertising and their ability to make decisions about privacy tradeoffs. We find users hold misconceptions about the purpose of cookies and the effects of clearing them, which limits cookie management as a self-help mechanism enabling user choice. Only 11% of respondents understood the text description of NAI opt-out cookies, which are a self-help mechanism that enables user choice. 86% believe ads are tailored to websites they have visited in the past, but only 39% believe there are currently ads based on email content, and only 9% think it is OK to see ads based on email content as long as their email service is free. About 20% of participants want the benefits of targeted advertising, but 64% find the idea invasive, and we see signs of a possible chilling effect with 40% self-reporting they would change their online behavior if advertisers were collecting data.
We find a gap between people’s willingness to pay to protect their privacy and their willingness to accept discounts in exchange for private information. 69% believe privacy is a right and 61% think it is “extortion” to pay to keep their data private. Only 11% say they would pay to avoid ads. With the exception of contextual advertisements, we find most participants would prefer random ads to tailored ads, but approximately 20% of participants would rather tailored ads. We find participants are comfortable with the idea that advertising supports free online content, but they do not believe their data are part of that exchange. We conclude with observations for public policy, technologists, and education.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
McDonald, Aleecia and Cranor, Lorrie Faith, Beliefs and Behaviors: Internet Users' Understanding of Behavioral Advertising (August 16, 2010). TPRC 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1989092