Search Users Overwhelmingly Opposed to Personalized Results

March 12, 2012

pew-views-data-personalized-search-results-march2012.jpg65% of search engine users say that search engines keeping track of their searchers and using the information to personalize their future results is a bad thing because it limits the information they get online and what results they see, according to [pdf] survey results released in March 2012 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. An even greater proportion (73%) of search users are not comfortable with search engines collecting user information to personalize search results because they see it as an invasion of their privacy. This view is relatively consistent across age groups, though is most pronounced among those over 50, with 83% saying they feel it is a bad thing on account of it being an invasion of their privacy.

Perceptions Vary by Age, Ethnicity, and Income

pew-attitudes-personalized-search-results-information-march2012.jpgYounger search engine users tend to be more accepting of the practice of collecting user information: 56% of 18-29-year-olds say it is bad thing because it may limit the information they get online, while 38% say it is good because it provides more relevant results. By comparison, 30-49-year-olds are far more likely to say it is bad than good (67% vs. 27%), as are those aged over 50 (70% vs. 24%).

African Americans and Hispanics are 64% more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to say personalized results are good (41% vs. 25%), while respondents with annual household income of more than $75k are 67% more likely than those with income of less than $30k to have an unfavorable view of the practice (75% vs. 45%).

Internet Users Opposed to Targeted Ads, Too

Online targeted advertising is also frowned upon by internet users. Roughly two-thirds say they are uncomfortable with the practice because they do not like having their online behavior tracked and analyzed, compared to 28% who say that they are fine with it because they see ads and information about things they are interested in. According to November 2011 findings from Parks & Associates, roughly 1 in 3 US broadband households report being comfortable with seeing personalized ads on the internet based on the products and services they are shopping for, their gender, or their age.

Meanwhile, the Pew results suggest that views of targeted advertising also tend to become more unfavorable alongside increasing age and income levels. 59% of those aged 18-29 say they are not okay with the practice, compared to 78% of 50-64-year-olds and 72% of those over 65. And while 58% of respondents with annual income of less than $30k view the practice unfavorably, that proportion rises to 68% for respondents in the next income bracket ($30k – $50k) and 74% for those with annual income between $50k and $75k.

Other Findings:

  • 59% of internet users have noticed targeted ads. Men are more likely to say they have noticed targeted ads than women (62% vs. 56%), while other groups with higher reported awareness include college grads, those aged 18-34, and those with household income of at least $50k.
  • Only 38% of online adults say they are aware of ways to limit how much personal information websites can collect about them. Of those, the most common methods are deleting their web history (81%), using the privacy settings of websites (75%), and changing their browser settings (65%).
  • Online men are more likely than women to say they know how to limit the information collected about them (42% vs. 35%), as are Caucasians (41%) when compared to African Americans (34%) and Hispanics (27%).

About the Data: The Pew results are based on data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from January 20 to February 19, 2012, among a sample of 2,253 adults, age 18 and older. Telephone interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline (1,352) and cell phone (901, including 440 without a landline phone).

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