Many Consumers Are Unclear What "Online Tracking" Even Means

A study released this week (just in time for the FTC’s online advertising workshop) shows that a huge percentage of Americans don’t grasp just how intensively their online habits are tracked, analyzed, and used to serve ads back to them. Almost 55% of respondents “falsely assumed that a company’s privacy polices prohibited it from sharing their addresses and purchases with affiliated companies,” and almost 40% “falsely believed that a company’s privacy policy prohibits it from using information to analyze an individuals’ activities online.”

It became even clearer that they didn’t grasp the scope of current online tracking practices when the issue was presented to them in a more straightforward fashion:

When survey respondents were offered a clear explanation of an online advertising model, about 85 percent rejected the idea that a site they value and trust should be allowed to serve up click stream advertisements based on data from their visits to various other sites.

One of the authors of the report said, “Consumers don’t understand that privacy policies are just notices. They don’t guarantee any rights.” Companies find ways to get around privacy issues by honoring the words but not the spirit of their pledges—for instance, by promising no 3rd-party tracking, but then using 1st-party subdomains to track for their advertisers.

“Most Consumers Clueless About Online Tracking” [PCWorld]
(Photo: Getty)