New TRUSTe Survey Finds Consumer Education and Transparency Vital for Sustainable Growth and Success of Online Behavioral Advertising

94% Believe Online Privacy is an Important Issue; DAA’s Advertising Option Icon Helps Alleviate Consumer Concerns

New York – July 25, 2011 – Today, at a consumer privacy research summit featuring some of the most notable players within the advertising community, TRUSTe, the leading online privacy solutions provider and largest provider of online behavioral advertising (OBA) compliance services, unveiled the surprising results of a new, nationwide consumer survey regarding key issues and perceptions about privacy and OBA. Overall, TRUSTe’s poll reveals a need for increased, proactive measures to build consumer trust and understanding about OBA – such as providing enhanced notice and consumer choice outside the privacy policy. The survey also shows the potential of privacy tools and the Digital Advertising Alliance’s (DAA) recently launched self-regulatory program to address consumer concerns and contribute to more favorable OBA campaigns.

Conducted online by Harris Interactive from May 26 – June 2, 2011, this is TRUSTe’s third sponsored survey of consumer attitudes toward OBA. The responses show that a majority of consumers consider privacy an important issue and ultimately hold themselves most responsible for their own online privacy. The survey also revealed that a lack of consumer understanding about how OBA works leads many consumers to the erroneous conclusion that personally identifiable information (PII) is being widely shared with advertisers without their consent.

At the same time, comparative data from TRUSTe’s earlier surveys shows that consumers are becoming more comfortable with OBA as they learn that this advertising technology does not use PII to deliver relevant advertisements. Responses also indicate that clear and open communications about OBA can build a foundation of trust where consumers will engage more frequently. In addition, 32 percent now claim that more than one in four online advertisements are relevant to their wants and needs, compared to 12 percent in 2008.

The survey includes significant findings in three distinct categories: consumer perceptions and trust levels regarding privacy and OBA; consumer actions and precautions being taken to safeguard privacy; and consumer preferences regarding the recently launched self-regulatory program.

“The findings of this survey indicate that the advertising industry has more work to do to address consumer concerns about online privacy,” said Fran Maier, President of TRUSTe. “At the same time, the survey also reveals a tremendous benefit for the advertising community to improve trust by improving privacy practices and embracing the advertising industry icon and standards. Clear and concise information about how targeted advertising really works, together with accessible choices, substantially alleviates consumer privacy fears. Over the years, we consistently see and advise that transparent and accountable data practices and consumer choices are the most successful means for building trust, whether in online advertising, e-commerce, mobile or social networking.”

"TRUSTe's research shows that the hard work of thousands of companies to provide transparency and choice to consumers works," said Peter Kosmala, managing director, Digital Advertising Alliance. "It provides choice to consumers while preserving the benefits that result in the free and vibrant Internet which is what consumers cherish." 

“TRUSTe’s findings demonstrate why it’s important for advertisers to assume responsibility for educating consumers about how targeted online advertising works and how they benefit from receiving relevant ads,” said Mike Dean, President of Experian Consumer Direct. “Online advertising helps support the free Internet content that consumers want, expect and demand – content such as news, search, email, weather reports, stock quotes, social media and the like.

I’m pleased that Experian Consumer Direct is working with TRUSTe and the DAA to provide consumers the information they need to make informed choices about receiving targeted ads.  This helps build consumer trust in the Internet and in e-commerce. The TRUSTe survey provides new insight that can be used to further develop and evolve this innovative self-regulatory initiative.”

Consumer Trust Levels and Perceptions Regarding OBA

The survey shows the need for continuing consumer education. For example, despite the fact that most sites, including all TRUSTe-certified companies, do not share personally identifying information (i.e. name and contact information) with advertisers without consumer consent, many consumers believe that they do. Supporting this, 40 percent of consumers polled said that they believe the websites that they have registered with have shared their name with advertisers without their consent. Forty-three percent believe their current location and 30 percent believe their contact information have also been shared with advertisers without consent.

Other PII data they believed was being shared, although less frequently, included sensitive health-related and financial data. Further – and perhaps as a result of these beliefs – the survey found that: 

  • Nearly six in 10 respondents (57 percent) would likely not consent to tracking of their online browsing behavior– even if it meant being shown more relevant ads; although
  • 42 percent of respondents said they are open to online tracking for the purposes of security and fraud protection.

The majority of the respondents in the survey were not familiar with the term “Online Behavioral Advertising,” although they had knowledge about the practice. Specifically:

  • Only one in three (35 percent) said they are aware of the term OBA; although
  • A solid 70 percent said they are aware of the OBA ‘concept;’
  • Four in ten (43 percent) have a negative connotation with the term;
  • A solid half (54 percent) do not like the concept of OBA; and
  • Nearly four in ten (37 percent) have felt uncomfortable with a targeted online advertisement based on their browsing behavior or personal information.

Consumer Actions and Precautions Being Taken for Privacy and OBA

However, and most importantly, the survey also revealed a 100 percent increase in favorability toward targeted online advertising when consumers are made aware that PII is not used to target advertisements. This key finding demonstrates that consumer education and transparency is a key element of gaining consumer trust. Other findings that demonstrate the need for more consumer education include: 

  • Just over one in three (37 percent) respondents know how to protect their personal information online and have taken these steps consistently;
  • Only three in ten respondents are willing to share even basic demographic information; and overwhelmingly
  • Nearly all surveyed would not share more sensitive PII, such as financial and health-related information. 

Still, a majority of those surveyed (53 percent) rarely or never manage their privacy choices by opting out of OBA, and only one in five indicated that they have downloaded and used a tracking blocker.

Consumer Preferences Regarding OBA and Online Privacy

Although respondents indicated they believe other organizations should be more active in safeguarding privacy, they believe overwhelmingly that they as individuals have the ultimate responsibility. The findings point to the need for companies to offer consumers the tools to protect their own privacy while also working to achieve the same goal.

    • Nine in ten (92 percent) say individuals have at least some responsibility for protecting their online privacy;
    • A majority want organizations (such as, in order, social networks, website publishers, search engines, online advertisers and ISPs) to assume responsibility; yet
    • 45 percent still trust themselves most to protect their privacy.

Most of those surveyed were not familiar with the notice and choice mechanisms for OBA, such as the DAA’s recently introduced advertising option icon (also known as the “Forward I” icon). However, when exposed to an online display ad including the icon and TRUSTe branded notice, consumers indicated that they were more positive toward the advertiser as a result of the additional privacy communications. The response indicates that continued awareness regarding the DAA’s self-regulatory program – leveraged through comprehensive OBA platforms such as TRUSTed Ads – builds consumer trust in online advertising through enhanced transparency, notice and choice.

About the Survey and Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive conducted the survey on behalf of TRUSTe from May 26 to June 2, 2011. More than 1000 consumers were surveyed online within the United States, and results were weighted to reflect the online adult population of computer users. To access the full survey report and other TRUSTed Ads resources, go to www.truste.com/ad-privacy.

Harris Interactive is one of the world’s leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries, including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries and territories through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what’s next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com

About TRUSTe
TRUSTe is the leading global Data Privacy Management (DPM) company and powers trust in the data economy by enabling businesses to safely collect and use customer data across web, mobile, cloud and advertising channels. Our cloud-based Data Privacy Management Platform delivers innovative technology products, including website monitoring and advertising compliance controls – along with privacy assessments and certifications. More than 5,000 companies worldwide, including Apple, Disney, eBay, Forbes, LinkedIn and Oracle rely on our DPM platform and globally recognized Certified Privacy Seal to protect/enhance their brand, drive user engagement and minimise compliance risk. For more information, please http://www.truste.com.