Pew Research: Most Internet Users Disapprove Of Targeted Ads And Personal Data Harvesting

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A report released today by The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that majority of Internet users are against “personalized” targeted advertisements. Majority of people are also against the censorship and “personalization” of search results which eliminates objectivity of search results.

The results in the report are based on data from telephone interviews conducted between January 20th to February 19th. Google announced changes to its privacy policy on January 24th.

The report found that search engines are more popular than ever. Most people who use the Internet use a search engine to find information they’re looking for. 73% of Americans use search engines, which grew from 52% ten years ago. Unsurprisingly, most people said that they use Google for much of their searches.

However, the Pew survey probed respondents on how they feel about search engines and other websites collecting personal data about them for different uses – a very clear majority of them said that they disapprove. Google announced on January 24th that it would start combining personal data about its users from its many products and services. Google plans to eliminate “the faceless web” and get to know their users better. They hope that by eliminating anonymity, they can start selling clearer profiles of us to advertisers. Advertisers want to target personalized advertisements at us – so that we are more likely to purchase products from them.  

Google also started eliminating objectivity from its search results, which means that everybody sees different search results depending on their interests and past searches. If one person searches for Ford cars in Texas and another person in New York searches for Ford cars – they might not get back the same search results. This allows Google to show you what it wants – Google basically controls what you see, hear, and know about. This is deeply concerning to majority of people, especially considering how ubiquitous Google has become recently.

The survey found that 65% of respondents said that it was a “bad” thing if search engines collected information about searches and then used it to influence the outcome of future searches.  Only 29% said they have yet to see anything wrong with it and think it’s a “good” thing.

An overwhelming 73% of respondents said that they are against search engines harvesting personal data about them because it’s an invasion of privacy. Only 23% said they are “okay” with it.

68% of respondents disapprove of targeted advertisements because they don’t like their personal data harvested and analyzed. Only 28% of are “okay” with targeted ads.

Unsurprisingly, the survey also found that vast majority of Internet users are completely unaware about the different ways that personal data can be collected of them, how much data is collected about them, and what they can do to limit the collection of data. Only 38% of Internet users say that they are generally aware of ways to protect themselves – most of them do this by deleting their web history.

Pew’s associate director of research Kristen Purcell in a telephone interview said:

“If we ask this question again a year from now, it will interesting to see if awareness is higher”

It does not shock me one bit that most people don’t know how they are being tracked all over the Internet and the many tools they can use to block much of the tracking. This is exactly why Google and the advertising industry are so vehemently against default settings on web browsers that would block third-party spying and tracking cookies.  Google is fully aware that most Internet users don’t know better and this survey just reaffirms what we already knew to be true.

Other recent reports from privacy advocacy groups – such as the UK based Big Brother Watch- found that most people were unaware of Google’s changes to its privacy policy and full implications of it. Only 12% were actually knew about Google’s new privacy policy. Most people are still in the dark about what Google is really doing. Regardless, this new report by Pew clearly indicates that the vast majority of Internet users are against tracking.

As the public get more educated on what Google is up to and they find out ways to better protect themselves, then we will all be better off for it. Mass education of the public is absolutely critical in order keep Google and other tracking companies at bay. The more knowledgeable the public are the better choices they will make for themselves.

To read the full report by Pew – please click here

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