Internet users want privacy, but barely use the Do Not Track button

By October 15, 2012
young woman hesitating in front of her computer screen

Internet users are ambivalent when it comes to data tracking. They like free content, personalized ads and privacy, which often aren’t compatible. While they don’t like being tracked, almost none use the Do Not Track button as a solution.


Web users have a complicated relationship with advertisements. With the spread of tracking tools, more consumers are seeing personalized ads based on their browsing habits. These tailored ads are more relevant and often more effective for engagement and purchase delivery. Consumers sometimes react unfavorably to ads, personalized and otherwise, but few would be willing to pay for the services that ads finance. However, growing awareness of digital marketing practices is spreading. Nearly half of respondents to the Crowd Science “Do Not Track” study accept “that ads are necessary for websites to be able to provide free content.”

Most users have never used the Do Not Track browser feature

Nearly a third of respondents are more accepting of ads when they are relevant, a facet of advertising that requires some tracking of their web usage. But personalization is not widely understood by the online population - which may be why there is a disconnect between perception and acceptance of marketing-related digital practices. Most respondents are aware of third-party tracking - 90 percent know about it, regardless of their opinion, and 57 percent dislike it. Only 5 percent support the practice. As for the feature that enables users to disable tracking on their web browser, only 52 percent know about it. This is still over half, but only 14 percent have used it.

Awareness is rising, but feelings are still contradictory

More users that do not have kids know about third-party tracking than those who do have kids, and more users with a higher education level know about the Do Not Track. But this is an emergent topic for the online population, and usage should change quickly. For example, though only 14 percent of respondents have used Do Not Track, 51 percent likely will use the feature. As awareness matures, users may view personalized ads differently. Or they may have views with mutually exclusive opinions, like with regular ads - while half of web users in this study understand that ads enable free access to websites, only 6 percent would pay for access and to eliminate ads. Which makes it harder for publishers to understand where they should stand. 

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