Most US Internet Users Want 'Do Not Track' to Stop Collection of Data about their Online Activities

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on October 7, 2012

Hoofnagle, Chris Jay, Urban, Jennifer M. and Li, Su, Privacy and Modern Advertising: Most US Internet Users Want ‘Do Not Track’ to Stop Collection of Data about their Online Activities (October 8, 2012). Amsterdam Privacy Conference, 2012. Available at SSRN.

  • Most Americans have not heard of ‘Do Not Track,’ a proposal to allow Internet users to exercise more control over online advertising. However, when probed, most prefer that Do Not Track block advertisers from collecting data about their online activities. This is a much more privacy-protective approach for Do Not Track than what has been proposed by the advertising industry. In previous studies, we have found that Americans think they are protected by strong online privacy laws. Here, we probed beliefs about tracking on medical websites and ‘free’ websites, with most not able to answer true/false questions correctly about tracking. This result brings into question notice-and-choice models that depend on consumer understanding of the terms for their legitimacy. We also probed Internet users’ attitudes towards advertising. Most Internet users say that they do not find utility in online advertising, with half claiming that they never click on ads. Advertisers and consumers are at an impasse on privacy. Advertisers seem to be seeking a kind of total information awareness for behavioral advertising, and have proposed self-regulatory guidelines with little bite. At the same time, both our survey evidence and media reports show consumer opposition to tracking. Do Not Track has emerged from the current skirmish between consumers and advertisers, but it is a relatively modest intervention that does little to shift the underlying incentives that have driven increasing tracking and aggregation of information about consumers. It is foreseeable that regardless of the form Do Not Track takes, websites will simply require consumers to disable it in order to access content. A fundamental change in incentives may be necessary to relieve this impasse and find an approach for advertising that is not so dependent upon third-party tracking and aggregation of information, both online and off.”
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