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Nearly seven in 10 Internet users oppose targeted ads, privacy poll finds

December 22, 2010 | 11:14 am

As Washington policymakers consider stronger online privacy protections, a new poll has found that nearly seven out of 10 Internet users don't think advertisers should be allowed to target them based on their Web-surfing habits.

Just 30% said they favored allowing companies to send them targeted ads, with 67% opposing the practice, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll. The numbers shifted a bit when respondents were asked if the use of such ads was justified to allow free access to websites -- 35% said it was, while 61% said it wasn't.

Younger Internet users were less opposed to targeted ads than older people. Still, just 34% of respondents 18 to 34 years old said they wanted advertisers to track them. Only 26% of those 55 and older supported the practice.

The use of behavioral targeting to deliver online ads has been drawing increasing criticism.

The Federal Trade Commission this month backed the creation of a do-not-track mechanism for Web browsers, similar to the popular do-not-call registry designed to prevent telemarketing calls. The mechanism, which public interest groups and privacy advocates have been calling for, would allow people to block companies from tracking their online activity.

And last week, the Commerce Department called for an online privacy bill of rights and a new government office to oversee privacy efforts. Both agencies prefer for Internet companies to voluntarily agree to stronger privacy protections for consumers, but some in Congress want to force them to with legislation. 

The poll showed that Internet users want more control over the ads they receive, even though 90% of respondents said they paid little or no attention them -- even those targeted to their past online activity.

The random telephone poll of 1,019 adults conducted this month did not ask about a do-not-track option. But 47% of respondents said they would prefer to allow targeted ads only from companies they choose, if forced to decide between that option, blocking all ads or allowing them all.

Only 14% of Internet users said they would choose to allow all advertisers to target them, while 37% said they would choose to block all targeted ads.

-- Jim Puzzanghera

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