Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Majority Uncomfortable with Websites Customizing Content Based Visitors Personal Profiles

A majority of U.S. adults are skeptical about the practice of websites using information about a person’s online activity to customize website content. However, after being introduced to four potential recommendations for improving websites privacy and security polices, U.S. adults become somewhat more comfortable with the websites use of personal information.

These are some of the results of a nationwide survey of 2,513 U.S. adults surveyed online between March 11 and 18, 2008 by Harris Interactive®. This survey was designed in collaboration with Dr. Alan F. Westin, Professor of Public Law and Government Emeritus at Columbia University, Principal of the Privacy Consulting Group, and a noted authority on privacy issues.

Specifically, the survey found:

--A six in ten majority (59%) are not comfortable when websites like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft (MSN) use information about a person’s online activity to tailor advertisements or content based on a person’s hobbies or interests. A quarter (25%) is not at all comfortable and 34 percent are not very comfortable;

--The remaining 41 percent who say that are comfortable with websites tailoring content is split between 7 percent who are very comfortable and 34 percent who are somewhat comfortable.

After exploring the adult public’s level of comfort of websites directing content to website visitors’ hobbies and interests, we probed as to whether the U.S. adults would alter their views after seeing a series of potential policy and security policies. These were based on the Federal Trade Commission’s current publication about the adoption of possible self-regulatory principles for online behavioral advertising.

After four privacy/security policies were introduced, U.S. adults did change their opinions:

--By 55 to 45 percent, a majority of U.S. adults indicates that they would be more comfortable with companies using information about a person’s online activities to provide customized advertising or content;

--Interestingly, once the privacy/security policies were presented the percentages of those who are very comfortable increases only very slightly to 9 percent from 7 percent. The percentage who are somewhat comfortable given the privacy/security policies increases more significantly to 46 percent from 34 percent;

--Similarly, those who are not at all comfortable decline to 19 percent from 25 percent, and those who are not very comfortable decline to 26 percent from 34 percent.

By Generation

Analysis of these results more closely by age indicates a difference in views by generations. Those who are younger Echo Boomers (aged 18-31) and Gen Xers (aged 32-43) are initially more comfortable with the notion of websites customizing content than older Baby Boomers (aged 44-62) and Matures (aged 63 or older).

--After being presented with the privacy/security policies, all generations level of comfort increase. Echo Boomers increase to 62 percent from 49 percent. Gen X’ers increase to 56 percent from 45 percent. Baby Boomers’ comfort increases to a majority (52%) from 34 percent;

--Only Matures remain uncomfortable with the websites customizing advertising and content though the level of support rises to 46 percent from 31 percent.

This survey measured reaction to hypothetical policy recommendations with which the adult public is likely to not be familiar. Therefore, it may not be a surprise that the public’s indication that their level of comfort with websites would increase after being told that websites would introduce privacy and security policies designed to insure user trust. However, what may be surprising is that the level of comfort did not increase more.

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