Consumer Perception of Privacy

 The Internet has long grappled with the issue of consumer privacy. In the seventh article of an eight-part series, Digiday examines the issue of “Redefining Privacy.” The series is made possible through the sponsorship of Truste, a provider of online privacy services.

Brands, agencies and publishers constantly assess and weigh in on issues surrounding online privacy. However, there’s one voice that rarely gets heard: the consumer. To that end, we spoke with people not in the online advertising industry to find out what they believe (or believe to know) in terms of how online advertisers track and treat the information they leave behind. Our questions: Do you believe that online advertisers collect and sell your personal info? Do you think online ads targeted and tailored to you is OK?

Here are their responses:

Sarah Davis, 27, blogger: If the company gathering said information is upfront about it, and the things they are using it for, I am more likely to be comfortable about it. Giving me control over what they have access to helps as well. More and more, in all fields, transparency is what matters. If a company is gathering my information without my knowledge, even if it is to “create a better experience for me,” it starts to feel creepy and intrusive. Tell me what you’re doing, ask permission and let me choose. Not only will I likely say yes, but you’ll also have earned my loyalty.

Sharon Handy, senior exhibit developer, Hands On! Inc.: I have no doubt that they collect/sell data; it’s likely a bigger profit generator than selling actual products. I do find targeted ads annoying — not because they’re ads, but because their algorithmic assumptions about my interests and needs are insane. If I just got a mortgage or black shoes, why keep selling me mortgages and black shoes? And what about my Internet presence makes them believe I’d buy anything from American Apparel? Mystifying.

John Foster, 42, novelist: I suspect the sale of personal information is very common (and it bothers me). As far as targeted online advertising … we’ve been targeted in other ways for some time (i.e., a beer ad during a football game), but the potential level of targeting online feels incredibly invasive. Also, sometimes hilariously inaccurate.

Dylan DePice, musician: Anytime an online ad mentions my location or correctly guesses the type of music I like, I can tell they’re collecting data on me. This makes me extremely uncomfortable because it means they’re putting me in a box; they’re only exposing me to certain products they think I might like based on what I’ve done in the past or where I am at the time. But what if my browsing doesn’t reflect my interests? If I’m researching Pol Pot, it doesn’t mean I love genocide. To be less dramatic: Just because I like Snoop Dogg doesn’t mean I like Wiz Khalifa.

Of course, TV ads do this all the time. (Cooking shows advertise cleaning products and weight-loss strategies and football games advertise beer and trucks.) The difference is you can change the channel on TV.

I don’t mind seeing ads. What worries me is that information that some algorithm deems irrelevant to me is being filtered out or censured. All because I’m classified a certain way according to some generalization based on my perceived preferences that are ultimately out of my control.

Mike Boelman, 22, student: I do believe advertisers collect/sell information. Most notably, I’ve seen this through data-mining tactics on Facebook (using your personal information on your profile to trigger relevant ads). If they have the information, who else does? What else do they know? I don’t like it, but like many others, I feel it necessary to communicate these things about myself. At this age, we’re all still aspiring to be something; as they say, “you are what you like.” So, while I find the whole thing seems seedy and rather Big Brother-ish, I doubt I’ll remove bands or movies from my profile. It’d be like de-friending someone. In all likelihood, I’ll probably just worry and complain sporadically, while remaining a part of the system.

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