March 04, 2009 08:30 ET

Behavioral Targeting: Not That Bad?! TRUSTe Survey Shows Decline in Concern for Behavioral Targeting

Consumers Want Relevant Ads Online, But Still Worry About Their Online Privacy

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--(Marketwire - March 4, 2009) - Consumers(1) are more conscious of behavioral targeting than ever before, according to a recent survey conducted by TNS for TRUSTe, the leading internet privacy trustmark: two out of three consumers are aware that their browsing information may be collected by a third party for advertising purposes.

Additionally, consumer discomfort with behavioral advertising declined year over year (from 57 percent in 2008 to 51 percent in 2009), suggesting that although consumers worry about protecting their private information online, they are growing more accustomed to behavioral targeting, with some even preferring to be served targeted advertisements from brands they know and trust over irrelevant, intrusive advertisements. In fact, 72 percent of those surveyed said they found online advertising intrusive and annoying when the products and services being advertised were not relevant to their wants and needs.

Even though consumers want customization in their online experiences, they also fear an invasion of privacy. Half of all consumers still say they are uncomfortable with advertisers using their browsing history to serve them relevant ads, and many make concerted efforts to achieve anonymity when surfing the web. According to the survey, people are deleting their cookies more often than they were a year ago, with 48 percent saying they delete cookies on their computer at least once a week -- an increase from 42 percent in 2008 -- further suggesting a high level of awareness on the part of the consumer that their browsing activity may be tracked.

"Behavioral tracking techniques represent the future in digital advertising, but as companies adapt to take advantage of these technologies, we are seeing some stumble as they struggle to provide transparency around privacy," said Colin O'Malley, VP of Strategic Business at TRUSTe. "The TRUSTe survey suggests that the more consumers understand these practices, the higher their comfort levels. Knowing this, TRUSTe invites the advertising industry to give its customers a newfound transparency into its tracking and profiling practices so that they may gain consumer trust and earn the right to continue to engage in behavioral advertising activities."

Three quarters of consumers say they know how to protect their personal information online, yet 39 percent admit that they do not consistently take the necessary steps to do so. This could support arguments as to why identity theft and other invasions of personal privacy remain a problem.

--  Thirty-five percent feel their privacy has been invaded or violated in
    the last year due to information they provided via the internet
--  Six percent of respondents reported having their identity stolen in
    the last year
--  One in ten (11%) experienced credit card theft in the last twelve
--  Thirteen percent reported unauthorized sharing of highly sensitive
    personal information, such as health and financial records over the last

Behavioral advertising still represents un-charted territory, without clearly applicable laws or regulations. In February, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a set of guidelines (titled "Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising") for companies collecting information on the actions of Internet users for the purpose of providing targeted advertising to them. The principles encourage self-regulatory action on the part of the companies themselves, specifically encouraging transparency and customer control, reasonable security and limited data retention for customer data.

These principles have been criticized by privacy advocates, who assert that government should impose stricter laws rather than relying on companies to self regulate. Yet the TRUSTe survey found that consumers still hold themselves responsible when it comes to online protection: respondents indicated that "Individuals" and "Website owners" are most responsible for an individual's online privacy, with four fifths of respondents indicating each was very or wholly responsible. A large percentage also reported that ISPs and Browser manufacturers were very or wholly responsible -- 70%, while government was seen as having the least responsibility with only 57% of respondents indicating the government was very or wholly responsible for protecting an individual's online privacy through legislation or regulation.

In line with TRUSTe's decade-long mission to advance online trust, TRUSTe has been active in policy discussions with government, business and consumer groups concerning new and evolving online business models and the development of best practices for managing online risks. TRUSTe has also been heavily involved in questions on behavioral advertising and responsible information management practices. TRUSTe recently issued Online Behavioral Advertising Checklist of Practices that Impact Consumer Trust, a whitepaper reviewing the current online behavioral advertising environment and providing a checklist to prepare advertisers, publishers and other businesses who wish to ensure they are engaging in behavioral advertising in a manner that provides transparency and consumer control.

Additionally, TRUSTe and the Center for Democracy and Technology will host a tech policy forum at the Yahoo! headquarters in Sunnyvale today (March 4th): Behavioral Advertising - Monetization versus Privacy - Navigating the Policy Risks, discussing behavioral targeting, recent policy changes, and the results of the TRUSTe Behavioral Advertising survey. The panel will be the first in the CDT/TRUSTe Internet Policy Series occurring throughout the year.

Survey Methodology

The TRUSTe Behavioral Advertising Survey was conducted by TNS, the world's largest custom research firm. The survey was conducted between February 5th and 13th, 2009, among a nationally representative sample of 1,008 online individuals age 18+ selected from the TNS Online Panel. Survey data were weighted to reflect demographic characteristics of the U.S. online population.

About TRUSTe

TRUSTe Privacy Seals help consumers click with confidence by guiding them to trustworthy Web sites. More than 2,400 Web sites rely on TRUSTe industry best practices to help them make the right decisions about privacy and protecting confidential user information. Half of the top 50 Web sites are certified including Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, Disney, eBay, Intuit, and Facebook. Independent research shows that when a TRUSTe web seal is present, visitors are more likely to share personal information, register at higher rates and spend more money. To learn more about internet privacy services visit

(1) "Consumers" is defined as individuals aged 18 or over who are online.

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