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Global survey reveals that online ad tracking is less popular than Colonel Gadaffi

the-godfather-1By Simon Davies
The online advertising industry has responded with utter disinterest to the results of a major international consumer survey which revealed that the vast majority of consumers believe the advertising sector is dishonest and untrustworthy.

Only 14% of those polled believe internet firms are honest about how they use consumers’ personal data

The poll – one of the largest of its kind ever undertaken – involved more than 11,000 respondents across eleven countries in Europe, Asia and North, South and Central America. Its principal finding – that consumers are overwhelmingly concerned about the tracking of personal online activities by advertising companies – has induced a collective shrug across the industry.

The survey, published last week by the UK IT analyst company Ovum, shows an apparent hardening of consumer opposition to online advertising surveillance, with 68 percent of people stating that they would use technology tools to circumvent tracking. In the light of that figure it is perhaps predictable that only 14% of those polled believe internet firms are honest about how they use consumers’ personal data.

These figures show a higher level of public disdain than Richard Nixon managed to achieve at the nadir of his presidency, but he at least had the common sense to resign. No government could survive with such a dismal approval rating, and any other industry would have been drummed out of the market by now.

These figures show a higher level of public disdain than Richard Nixon managed to achieve at the nadir of his presidency

Not that these results should come as a surprise to anyone. Four surveys on this topic over the past year have resulted in remarkably similar outcomes, though the Ovum survey indicates a shift toward a more activist consumer attitude. Ovum bluntly warned of a deterioration of trust in the big data gatherers.

“Recent data privacy scandals such as WhatsApp’s use of address books, and the continuing issues over privacy and data use policies on search and social networking websites have fueled consumers’ concerns over the protection of their personal data” the company observed.

“Unfortunately, in the gold rush that is big data, taking the supply of ‘little data’ – personal data – for granted seems to be an accident waiting to happen,” Mark Little, principal analyst at Ovum, said in a statement. “However, consumers are being empowered with new tools and services to monitor, control, and secure their personal data as never before, and it seems they increasingly have the motivation to use them.”

the Ovum survey indicates a shift toward a more activist consumer attitude

Declaring “tomorrow’s invisible consumers are on the march” Ovum appeared confident that the survey highlighted a generational change in attitudes to consumer rights. “Privacy has become a real issue with consumers, driving the emergence of well-funded start-ups dealing in blocking, reputation management, personal data cloud, and data resale. There is a nascent alternative ecosystem for personal data forming that is user-controlled, and permission-based, and that has the power to wrong-foot the comfortable supply lines of Big Data.”

“Choice and Control” means allowing the industry control over which tracking options to ignore while giving customers the choice over whether to use the Internet.

Of course this potential consumer action assumes that the advertising industry will actually permit users to avoid being tracked. When Microsoft famously took the decision to make the Do Not Track (DNT) option in the IE browser active by default the industry reacted with horror and accused the company of treachery and commercial vandalism. Yahoo even refused to honour the default setting, calling foul play.

Apparently it’s essential for browsers to have DNT switched “off” by default so customers will be empowered to switch it on if they so choose. But if DNT is switched “on” by default it disempowers people’s option to turn it off.

How insensitive of us not to have spotted this overwhelmingly obvious moral logic.

From the industry’s perspective it’s all about choice and control. This is important. “Choice and Control” is one of the key slogans used by the industry. It means allowing the industry control over which tracking options to ignore while giving customers the choice over whether to use the Internet.

Of course being popular isn’t a requirement for success, though as a rule industry sectors loathed as much as the ad industry usually survive only through legislative protection, intimidation, institutional deception and monopolistic practices. How fortunate for us that the advertising industry doesn’t involve any of those unfortunate elements.