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Behavioral Targeting and Privacy: Survey Studies User Concerns

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Recent events have galvanized discussions and concerns about Internet privacy. The barrage of documents and reports regarding government surveillance released by Edward Snowden in June 2013 ignited debates about privacy. In addition, the cascade of articles about the cybersecurity breaches faced by businesses and institutions raised concerns about so-called “data insecurity.” Debates about privacy and security have been prevalent and divisive, with some believing that widespread monitoring and surveillance has tremendous security benefits, while others place a greater value on their privacy.

According to two polls conducted by Pew Research Center, Americans feel that privacy is important in their daily lives, but they fear that they are constantly under heavy surveillance and fear that they have little control over the data that is collected about them and how it is used. Further, Americans have little confidence in the privacy and security of their data and records maintained by various institutions.

Earlier studies have indicated the importance that Americans place on Internet security. A survey that asked 4,000 web users whether online privacy impacts their Internet experience shows important trends in user expectations regarding behavioral targeting and privacy. The survey found that privacy is a major concern for 80.1 % of respondents who claim they want their personal information kept private, which hardly comes as a surprise.

Although privacy is a major concern for all age groups, 67.3 percent of respondents aged 18 to 24  worry about privacy, while 85.7 percent of those aged 55 and older are concerned about their privacy online. Of those surveyed, 62.5 percent also said that it’s “likely” that a website they visit is collecting their personal information and transmitting it to third parties.

Concerns about privacy and security have presented a set of challenges for marketers. In placing advertisements, advertising agencies often rely on behavioral targeting, which tracks users’ online activities, creating a profile of that individual and allowing marketers to deliver advertisements that are tailored to individual users based on their profiles. User information is collected through a combination of cookies and pixel tags. Many consumers are concerned that such practices jeopardize highly sensitive personal information. Companies need to be conscientious about behavioral targeting and privacy issues, particularly in light of recent events and discussions, and need to update their statements to accurately reflect their practices, allowing users to determine whether they want to give companies access to their personal information.

Featured image shows a 2016 Toronto artwork called “spY, Cameras, Toronto, 2016 (Retis)“. Republished under Creative Commons license. 

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