3. Public knowledge and experience with data-driven advertising
Today it is possible for businesses, advertisers, and other organizations to use personal information about users from a variety of sources to create detailed profiles based on a person’s likes, preferences, and other characteristics. That survey found that the majority of Americans have heard or read about this concept, and those who think that all or most companies use profiles to better understand their customers. Of those who are familiar with profiles, a majority report that these ads are seen relatively regularly.
Americans have a wide awareness of data profiles and it is common for them to see ads based on their personal information
Overall, the general public is aware of the practice of companies and organizations to create detailed user profiles based on personal experience and personal data. Most Americans – 77% overall – say they have heard at least a little about how companies and other organizations use personal information, for example, to offer targeted advertisements, special offers, or to evaluate how risky people could be as customers, including 27% who say they have heard a lot about this concept. Around one in five adults say they have never heard of this practice.
Detailed Data Profiles: How the Pew Research Center asked about targeted ads
Respondents were presented with the following prompt: “Today it is possible to use and combine personal data about people from many different sources, such as their purchase and credit history, their online browsing or search behavior, or their public voting data You detailed profiles of the potential interests and characteristics of people. Companies and other organizations use these profiles to offer targeted advertising or special offers or to assess how risky people could be as customers. “
Not only are most Americans aware of this concept, they routinely see it in practice. About eight in ten adults familiar with these profiles say they occasionally (34%) or frequently (49%) see advertisements or prompts that appear to be based on a profile created using personal information about them became. In other words, 64% of adults in the United States say they’ve seen these types of ads or prompts.
Awareness of these data-driven profiles is relatively widespread across a number of demographics, but college graduates and wealthier adults are likely familiar with both the concept of profiling and the outcome – advertising that appears to be targeted towards them. Adults with a bachelor’s degree or above are more likely than those with high school degrees or less to say they’ve heard of personal profiles (87% versus 69%) or say they see advertisements based on their personal information seems to be based (93% vs. 73%). Similar patterns exist for household income, with people living in higher-income households more likely to say they are familiar with the term and see these types of ads than those living in lower-income households.
The majority of Americans who see ads that appear to be based on their personal information say those ads reflect their interests and characteristics
Respondents who reported having seen advertisements based on their personal information were subsequently asked how much they understood about data collection in connection with such targeted advertising.
A full 64% of adults who have ever seen ads that appear to be based on their personal information say they have at least some understanding of what personal information is used to create targeted advertisements, with 14% saying they understand a great deal . Still, some ad viewers are less certain about the concept: 35% say they have little or no knowledge of what type of personal data is used to create these ads. Looking at all American adults, 41% say they understand what data is used to create these ads.
Additionally, the majority of ad viewers believe that these types of ads reflect exactly who they are. About six in ten adults who see these ads (61%) say they accurately reflect their interests and traits. Still, relatively few in this group – just 7% – say that these ads reflect who they are very well. (The percentage of those who say these ads reflect them at least reasonably well is 39% among all adults in the United States.)
Around half consider it acceptable for the government to collect data to assess terrorist threats, but fewer consider it appropriate for social media sites to monitor users for signs of depression
Personal information is used by businesses and the government for a number of purposes. The results reported in Chapter 2 show that Americans express general concern about the data collected, but that the public finds some uses more acceptable than others. This variety of thoughts becomes apparent when adults consider some of the purposes of the data collection.
When asked whether or not it is acceptable for a low-performing school to share student data with a nonprofit group to improve educational outcomes, about half of Americans (49%) say they think it is an acceptable form of data sharing . The same percentage of the public also feels it is acceptable for the government to collect data from Americans in order to assess who could pose a potential terrorist threat.
Additionally, a similar percentage of Americans (48%) find it acceptable for DNA testing companies like AncestryDNA and 23andMe to share their customers’ genetic information with law enforcement agencies to help solve crimes.
However, other forms of data collection are considered less acceptable by the public.
About four in ten adults (41%) think it’s acceptable for fitness tracking app makers to share user data with medical researchers to better understand the link between exercise and heart disease, compared with 35% who think it is unacceptable.
And only 25% of Americans consider it acceptable for smart speaker manufacturers to release audio recordings of their customers to law enforcement to aid in a criminal investigation. A similar proportion (27%) consider it acceptable for a social media company to monitor user posts for signs of depression in order to identify individuals at risk of self harm and connect them to counseling services. In these scenarios, 49% and 45% respectively indicate that the forms of data usage are unacceptable.
But while Americans’ assessments of these practices tend to vary based on the type of data collected and the purpose of their use, at least 20% of adults say they are unsure whether they are acceptable in each of these specific scenarios. For example, 27% of adults say they are not sure whether or not social media companies that check users for signs of depression for help is acceptable, and 24% say the same about underperforming schools, share student data with nonprofits.
Older and younger Americans typically differ in the appropriateness of how corporations and governments use people’s personal information
Public views as to whether certain types of data use are appropriate tend to vary by age. Adults 18-29 years of age are more likely than those over 65 to say that it’s acceptable for fitness tracking app makers to share data with medical researchers to better understand the relationship between exercise and heart disease (52% vs. 35% %) or for social media companies to monitor user posts for signs of depression so they can identify people at risk for self-harm and connect them to counseling services (42% vs. 18%).
However, there are other cases where older groups are more supportive of data exchange. About six in ten adults aged 65 and over (58%) say it is acceptable for DNA testing companies to share genetic information about customers with law enforcement to help solve crimes, compared with 39% of those 18 to 29 year olds. Older adults are also more likely than younger adults to believe that collecting data from Americans to assess terrorist threats or smart speaker manufacturers who share audio with law enforcement to help with investigations is an acceptable form of data use. Attitudes towards schools sharing student data with a nonprofit, however, are relatively similar: 44% of those over 65 find this acceptable, compared with 47% of 18-29 year olds who say the same.