Surveys Indicate That Americans Don’t Want Highly-Targeted Advertising

Joseph Turow and Chris Jay Hoofnagle, in an op-ed in the New York Times:

In a recent Wall Street Journal commentary, Mark Zuckerberg claimed that Facebook users want to see ads tailored to their interests. But the data show the opposite is true. With the help of major polling firms, we conducted two large national telephone surveys of Americans in 2012 and 2009. When we asked people whether they wanted websites they visit to show them commercial ads, news or political ads “tailored to your interests,” a substantial majority said no. Around half did say they wanted discounts tailored to their interests. But that too changed after we told them how companies gathered the information that enables tailoring, such as following you on a website. Bottom line: If Facebook’s users in the United States are similar to most Americans (and studies suggest they are), large majorities don’t want personalized ads — and when they learn how companies find out information about them, even greater percentages don’t want them.

I’ll go one further: I don’t think highly-targeted advertising is substantially more effective at selling products and services than more generally targeted ads based on the page or website it’s placed on. It’s certainly not worth amassing huge databases of individuals’ preferences, tastes, web browsing histories, and demographic information.

These surveys are seven to ten years old. I think this would be a great time to poll people again.