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Consumer Opinion on Behavioral Marketing

How trusting are online American consumers? Clearly, it depends on who you ask. A majority of U.S. adults are skeptical about the practice of websites using information about a person's online activity to customize website content.

However, after being introduced to four potential recommendations for improving websites privacy and security polices, U.S. adults become somewhat more comfortable with the websites use of their personal information. These are some of the results of a nationwide survey of 2,513 U.S. adults surveyed online by Harris Interactive.

This survey was designed in collaboration with Dr. Alan F. Westin, Professor of Public Law and Government Emeritus at Columbia University, Principal of the Privacy Consulting Group, and a noted authority on privacy issues.

The recent market study results included:

- A six in ten majority (59 percent) are not comfortable when websites like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft (MSN) use information about a person's online activity to tailor advertisements or content based on a person's hobbies or interests.

- A quarter (25 percent) is not at all comfortable and 34 percent are not very comfortable.

- The remaining 41 percent who say that are comfortable with websites tailoring content is split between 7 percent who are very comfortable and 34 percent who are somewhat comfortable.

Dr. Westin observed "Websites pursuing customized or behavioral marketing maintain that the benefits to online users that advertising revenues make possible -- such as free emails or free searches and potential lessening of irrelevant ads -- should persuade most online users that this is a good tradeoff. Though our question flagged this position, 59 percent of current online users clearly do not accept it."

After exploring the adult public's level of comfort of websites directing content to website visitors' hobbies and interests, they probed as to whether the U.S. adults would alter their views after seeing a series of potential policy and security policies. These were based on the Federal Trade Commission's current publication about the adoption of possible self-regulatory principles for online behavioral advertising.

Analysis of these results more closely by age indicates a difference in views by generations. Those who are younger Echo Boomers (aged 18-31) and Gen Xers (aged 32-43) are initially more comfortable with the notion of websites customizing content than older Baby Boomers (aged 44-62) and Matures (aged 63 or older).

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