Internet Users Don’t Fully Grasp How Social and Search Sites Make Money

By Cameron Scott 

social networks, search engines, social media

auremar /

The majority of Americans know how to use search engines and at least one social network, but many don’t understand how the sites they use make money, according to a study from Harris Interactive and The Search Agency, a global online marketing firm.

Seven out of 10 American adults who use the Internet know how to post on someone’s Facebook wall, but just over half understand how Facebook makes money, according to the survey.

Nearly all Internet users know how to use a search engine, and just about a quarter stated that they had knowingly clicked on paid search ads. However, search users’ notions of how Google and Bing make money was foggy. Three-quarters correctly cited paid advertising as one source of revenue. But 29 percent thought companies paid annual dues to gain access to the engines, and 20 percent said they thought some users paid for premium search features. More than a third of those polled said they thought search engines sold their personal data to marketers — something both Google and Bing claim not to do.

Social network users showed greater familiarity with Pinterest, which first gained mainstream attention last year, than with Twitter, which launched in 2006. Just over a third of men polled knew the character length of a tweet; 27 percent of women did. Nearly half of women knew what a “pin” was, and 42 percent of men did.

The poll surveyed 2,006 American adults in August 2012.