Internet Content Should Be Free and Digital Ads Tailored: Study

More than 90 percent of Americans polled said that free content was important to the overall value of the Internet.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Americans place great value on the availability of free Web content, and appreciate Internet advertising that is tailored to their specific interests, according to a Zogby Analytics survey of 1,000 U.S. adults commissioned by the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), a self-regulatory body that promotes transparency and user choice for interest-based ads.

More than 90 percent of those polled said that free content was important to the overall value of the Internet, and more than 60 percent said it was "extremely" important. Similarly, more than 75 percent of poll respondents said they prefer content, like news, blogs and entertainment sites, to remain free and supported by advertising, compared with fewer than 10 percent who said they'd rather pay for ad-free content.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents indicated that they'd like at least some ads tailored directly to their interests, compared with only 16 percent who preferred to see only generic ads for products and services. The report found 40 percent prefer to get all their ads directed to their interests.

The biggest concerns about the Internet were identity theft (39 percent), viruses and malware (33 percent), government surveillance (12 percent), cyber-bullying and/or stalking (5 percent) and behavioral targeting (4 percent), according to the survey results. The majority (61 percent) said they don't trust the government to regulate how Internet advertising is delivered, and 41 percent of users think that browser obstacles to displaying advertising will result in less access to free content.

"What the poll makes clear is that consumers prefer ads that reflect their particular interests, which is precisely what interest-based advertising was created to provide," Lou Mastria, managing director of the DAA, said in a statement. "The poll also demonstrates that Americans' privacy concerns are rightly focused on real threats like malware and identity theft, and not on an industry that follows rigorous, enforceable guidelines for data collection and use."

Nearly half (47 percent) of respondents said they would oppose a law that would restrict how data is used for Internet advertising but also potentially reduced free content availability, compared with only 22 percent that support such a law. Three-quarters (75 percent) of respondents said they should be able to choose the ads they want to see as opposed to 4 percent who say the government should.

"The data reveals an American public that is largely supportive of the advertising-funded Internet, and is leery of efforts to drastically change the way it operates," Mastria said. "In light of that, it makes sense to focus on transparency and choice solutions that are already working, rather than on new, untested initiatives which obscure choice and may damage the advertising support of the Internet economy."