Two thirds of Americans Object to Online Tracking. But Why?

A new study has been released called “Americans Reject Tailored Advertising” and it could signal a return to Capitol Hill for marketers.  Eeek.  UPenn Ph.D. Joseph Turow and four others have compiled this telemarketing study, and conclude that majority percentages of Americans are opposed to having the websites they visit track their activities.

In the summary of the study, the authors state “our findings suggest that if Americans could vote on behavioral targeting today, they would shut it down.”

But why?

Why in the world would you object to tailored ANYTHING?  If I walk into a hotel and have a choice between hearing “good morning, sir, we have a room for you,” and “good morning Mr. Ashway, we have a room for you just the way you like it – on an upper floor with a view of the city and close to the elevator,” um, I think I don’t really care how they know that.  Besides, I can always disagree.

Most of the reason we all love the web is BECAUSE it’s tailored.  BECAUSE it’s cookie’d.  That’s why Amazon is so cool:  “Welcome back.  We have recommendations for you.”  That’s why YouTube is so cool:  “Here are some videos you might like.”  If we had to wait for every site to uniquely load every component of the site every time we visited we wouldn’t want to visit anymore.  Besides, we can always disagree, and go with something other than the recommendations.

My best guess is that most Americans are fearful that their information will be misused in some way, and most likely in credit card fraud.  But that’s not the argument here.  Online tracking is not about storing or stealing, it’s about tailoring and timing.  That’s what makes web marketing what it is:  contextualized.  If we remove that, it’s just vagueness and a cacophony of undirected, irrelevant advertising noise. Yuk.

This sounds like horsehockey.  More to come on this study and this topic in the near future.

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3 thoughts on “Two thirds of Americans Object to Online Tracking. But Why?

  1. Iain Macpherson July 29, 2010 / 4:18 pm

    (Darth) Nader –

    Respectfully, you are so wrong. It would be totally creepy — like something out of The Shining — if I went to a hotel and they rattled off a description of a room tailored to my secret desires …,

    — Iain

    • Nader Ashway July 29, 2010 / 5:21 pm

      Iain –
      Thanks for your comment. I respect your desire for privacy, but let’s for a moment put aside your “secret desires” and talk about your web surfing experience. If you’re a man in your 40’s and you’re on Amazon or NFL.com or on Pandora.com (as examples,) do you want to be served ads and recommendations for The Backyardigans, the hot Nickelodeon show for pre-schoolers? Or perhaps you’d prefer some high end beauty tips from Garnier on how to paint your toenails and color your hair to match? Or even better, how about a BOGO promotion for Depends adult diapers?

      I would imagine that after a while, that would start to suck a little. Why? It has nothing to do with you or any of your interests. It’s noise. It’s irrelevant. And ultimately, it wastes your time.

      And there are some people who object to websites storing ANY information about you at all. Eeek! Enjoy the three and a half minutes it takes EVERY web page to load, since you don’t want cookies stored on your machine, storing all that “private” information. And then when you want to review all your previous purchases at Amazon, or want to know what your bank balance is, you’ll have to call someone (privately) on the telephone and ask for them to snail mail you a hard copy of your materials. That should only take about a week or so!

      I’m not being snarkey here. I’m just submitting that the web experience has enhanced our lives tremendously, with speed as just one key benefit. But to enjoy that enhancement, we do have to submit to SOME level of exposure – and even that exposure can turn into a benefit if you’re served offers and advertising that make SENSE to your life and your preferences.

      Happy to keep debating this topic – and look for more posts on this soon, as I think this will also be fodder on the Senate floor.

      -Nader

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