The EU ePrivacy Directive came into effect over a month ago, and much of the speculation that we’ve been hearing discussing what will happen is now being tested.
One thing is proving to be true; fear of the unknown is a natural human instinct. ValueClick wanted to answer some questions around how the directive will impact our industry and understand more about how much consumers know versus what they want to know. So we teamed up with the IAB and Kantar Media to carry out an independent study exploring UK consumer’s understanding of online privacy and the online advertising industry. The research questioned over 2,000 internet users including an online survey with face-to-face interviews.
Some of the results were to be expected, but some of the most interesting findings showed that the majority of consumers have a good understanding of the value exchange between online advertising and the content it helps pay for.
In fact 60% of UK consumers agree that the majority of the internet would ‘disappear’ without advertising and 52% are ‘happy’ to see online advertising because they accept it supports online services and content at little or no cost. Only one in ten people said they would be happy to pay for websites or services online that are currently free if advertising was removed from them.
In our industry we can be blinkered as to how the consumer actually feels and how much they know, but we live in a commercial world people understand this.
However, unsurprisingly, there was a distinct lack of understanding about the technology behind online advertising, and a lack of understanding of how data is used as well. What is comforting is that 40% of consumers already accept that to receive digital services at little or no cost, companies need to be able to access information about their online behaviour and 45% said they were ‘happy’ for advertisers to show them ads based on their browsing behaviour.
That said, 64% of those who claimed to know what a cookie was could actually identify the correct definition and 50% of people said they deleted their cookies every six months. In effect, four in 10 (39%) who deleted their cookies in the last six months did so without correctly knowing what cookies are used for.
It was interesting to gather an understanding of how consumers feel about behavioural targeting and retargeting; surprisingly many people wanted to see relevant advertising, 55% said they would rather see ads relevant to them online. In fact, 59% would rather have a lower number of relevant ads online than a higher number of less relevant ones.
This research, as well as our own knowledge, reveals that there is both an opportunity and a challenge facing the online advertising industry; we need to close the gap in consumer knowledge between the positive attitudes to online advertising and the misinformation people have about their privacy and data when online.
Any company within the online advertising industry needs to take steps to engage more with consumers by providing transparent information and empowering consumers to make informed, educated choices. The first step is the introduction of the AdChoices icon which can provide greater transparency and consumer control over customised advertising. The IAB and ICO will be promoting the icon, but businesses should be doing the same. We need to be improving websites and providing honest, clear information about how business models work and exactly what data is used for. We need a ‘privacy by design’ approach that will empower people.
The research backed up our consensus: most people are receptive and open-minded about online advertising and we need to ensure we are all doing our bit to cast more light on how the commercial internet works.
Robin Davies is Country Manager (UK) of digital return on investment specialists Mediaplex, part of ValueClick Inc and creates customised optimisation strategies that enable clients such as Dell, eBay and Betfair to precision-tune every digital campaign and out-perform their competitors.