September 30, 2009

Stu Ingis quoted in New York Times story on public’s reaction to behavioral advertising

2 min

Venable partner Stu Ingis was quoted in a September 30, 2009 New York Times story about new research into the public’s perception of websites' behavioral advertising practices.

According to a new survey from professors at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Berkeley, roughly two-thirds of Americans object to online tracking by advertisers — and that number rises once they learn the different ways marketers are following their online movements.

The professors believe their study, which will be released today, is the first independent, nationally representative telephone survey on behavioral advertising.

Behavioral advertising has quickly become a hot political issue. Privacy advocates are telling Congress and the Federal Trade Commission that online tracking has gone too far while marketers argue that sophisticated advertising generates revenue to support free online content.

Major advertising trade groups proposed self-regulatory measures, such as giving consumers clear notice that their behaviors were being tracked, back in July.

The study’s authors hired a survey company to conduct interviews with 1,000 adult Internet users. The results were later adjusted to reflect Census Bureau patterns in categories like sex, age, population density and telephone usage.

According to the survey, targeted advertisements did not appeal to 66 percent of respondents. When respondents were told that companies tailor ads by following what someone does on the company’s site or other sites, a significant number said the practices were “not o.k.”

However, more than half of the respondents believed that customized discounts and news stories based on their preferences were acceptable.

Stu Ingis, a Venable partner who represents the industry self-regulation coalition, said that the industry was taking steps to educate consumers about how behavioral targeting works.

“The more people understand the practices and how the data is actually being used, that’s when the concerns disappear,” Ingis said. Just because many Americans are not in favor of something does not mean it should be banned, he said, citing negative feelings about taxes.