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NAI Consumer Survey: Digital Advertising, Online Content, and Privacy

In late 2017, the NAI was given the opportunity to apply for a pilot survey program in order to run opinion polls and market research on internet users. With this chance to learn more about consumer opinions, we sent out a survey that obtained the responses of 10,000 U.S. consumers to find out more about what they think about online privacy, digital advertising, the ad-supported internet, and ad blocking. The survey was conducted January 29th to February 1st, 2018. 

NAI’s takeaways from the survey results

Our survey’s first question establishes the general level of concern respondents have about their privacy on the Internet. Whether the responses can be contributed to either recent high-profile data breaches, or to the growing national conversation surrounding privacy, “privacy” was stated to be at least “somewhat concern[ing]” for 85% of respondents.  Further, 50% of responses indicate that consumers are either “very” or “extremely” concerned about their privacy. In addition, 14% indicated that privacy was not a concern “at all”.  This indicates there continues to be a variety of attitudes about online privacy, but we must address the majority in the middle who are at least “somewhat concerned” about their privacy.  While this first question establishes that privacy is a concern for most respondents, subsequent questions and responses from the survey further clarifies this concern. 

The survey’s second question asks respondents to share what they felt was the primary reason for their privacy concern on the internet: 56% indicated that hackers were their top concern; a combined 15% said that data collection by either the U.S. or a foreign government was their top concern. As a whole, concerns about data collection by hackers or government entities attribute to 72% of responses to this question. 8% of users were most concerned about website and application publishers collecting data and 7% of users stated that data collection by advertising companies was their primary concern. 

The third question then shifts to help us better understand how consumers believe their access to online content should be financed. The results show overwhelmingly that respondents prefer their online content to be paid for by “Advertising” (67%), and interestingly this response was largely consistent across all age-groups. When this result is combined with the percentage of respondents indicating a preference for a “Donations” model (17%), the two responses account for 84% of all responses. This shows  an even clearer aversion by responders to pay directly for their online content. In fact, only 15% of responses indicated a preference for a subscription or microtransaction model. An interesting parallel to note is that 15% of respondents prefer a subscription or microtransaction model, which aligns with 15% of respondents who previously indicated their biggest privacy concern as AdTech companies and online publishers. 

Responses to the first three questions show individuals’ concern for their online privacy. But, while websites and AdTech play a role in this, albeit a minor one when compared to that of governments and hackers, question four adds further insight to this regarding choice.  When asked who should make the decision concerning opting a consumer out of targeted advertising, responders largely prefer themselves to be in control of this decision, with 79% indicating that “Individuals” should be in control. Interestingly, only 10% of respondents indicated that they prefer their browser to make such decisions on their behalf.

The survey results reveal that while some privacy concerns are associated with AdTech companies, this concern is not nearly as significant as those associated with hackers and government surveillance. But with that, the internet is largely ad-supported, and whether they are aware of this, U.S. consumers prefer their internet to continue to be ad-supported and show a clear disinterest in their content being made available only through subscriptions or microtransactions. But, when consumers are confronted with potential privacy enhancing measures, our survey shows that they want to make this choice themselves. This is a stern rebuttal to both device and browser manufacturers and governments making privacy decisions on consumers’ behalf.

Finally, while ad blocking is sometimes seen as evidence that consumers are taking privacy into their own hands, the final question of the survey shows that ad blockers are not primarily used as a privacy tool, but rather because consumers find ads annoying or because they cause websites to take too long to load and the effect that load time has on data usage.

We hope this survey, and its accompanying results, serve as a catalyst for discourse on not only our industry, but also the NAI’s role as a leading self-regulatory association. 

Full survey results can be found here.

"This research was made possible by Google Surveys, which donated use of its online survey platform. The questions and findings are solely those of the researchers and not influenced by any donation. For more information on the methodology, see the Google Surveys Whitepaper."