A Second Look at the Pew Public Perceptions of Privacy Study

November 19, 2014

Pew’s recent study, “Public Perceptions of Privacy and Security in the Post-Snowden Era,” shined a light on the fact that “the majority of adults [in the U.S.] feel that their privacy is being challenged along such core dimensions as the security of their personal information and their ability to retain confidentiality.” Their concerns not only cover core communication channels, like landline and cell phones, but also include the internet. Of course, the word “privacy” itself has different meanings to different people, but the majority of respondents equated privacy and security in their responses. This alludes to an individual’s private information being stolen through malicious hacking or through government surveillance. The definition of privacy also means, for many, the ability to keep their personal data and online habits away from the eyes of the government and advertisers.  

While most of the media coverage of the Pew report has focused on the growing unease of Americans in regard to personal privacy since the Edward Snowden revelations, very important insights into consumers’ true feelings about the use of their data on the internet also contained in the study were provided little attention. Many respondents in the study acknowledged the extremely important things that are being done when information is readily available to advertisers. Most respondents – roughly 55 percent – stated that they are willing to share some personal data in exchange for access to free online services. These internet users appeared well aware that the internet has been able to flourish and become the great information and commercial resource only because of the enormous funding of the system provided by advertisers.  

Furthermore, the respondents who accessed the internet via mobile devices, such as a smartphone or tablet, were the most willing to trade some of their personal data for free services, with 62 percent of mobile internet users responding positively. Also, social media users were particularly likely to “agree” or “strongly agree” that they are willing to exchange some of their personal data for free online services.

Another vital takeaway from this study is that over a third of adults “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement, “I appreciate that online services are more efficient because of the increased access they have to my personal data.” Younger adults were somewhat more likely to value the increased efficiency of online services compared with those aged 50-64. Again, those who accessed the internet on a mobile device were more likely to agree that they appreciate the efficiency delivered due to personal data collection.

The Pew data provides many interesting insights, but even more telling is actual behavior of consumers on the internet. These consumers overwhelmingly have shown that they understand the value of interest-based ads.  

To address privacy concerns about interest-based advertising, the marketing community has built one of the most rapidly-growing and successful self-regulatory programs in history – the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA). ANA and four other industry groups were founding members of the DAA, which features an icon alerting consumers to the fact that they have been served an ad based on interest-based advertising. When a consumer clicks on this icon, they can access detailed information about interest-based ads and learn how to exercise choice and opt-out of targeted ads if they wish to do so.

Since its launch in 2010, the DAA has rapidly brought enhanced notice and choice to consumers.  The AdChoices icon is now served more than a trillion times each month. Thirty-seven million unique visitors have accessed our two program sites, www.aboutads.info and www.youradchoices.com. Also, 5.2 million unique users have exercised an opt-out choice on our Consumer Choice page. These are compelling numbers which show that consumers realize that, thanks to their control over whether these ads will be placed, their privacy concerns in this area are being effectively met. Clearly, the American public is full of increasingly savvy consumers who acknowledge the mutual benefit of receiving relevant advertising rather than being bombarded by random advertising.

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