Study: NSA Scandal Is Still Setting Off Privacy Alarm Bells Among Consumers

Concerned consumers more likely to take action to protect privacy

Now that consumers know that NSA spooks are reviewing their every click, online privacy has become a much bigger concern. 

After seven weeks of steady media coverage, the percentage of Internet users worried about their online privacy jumped 19 percent, from 48 percent in June (when the story first appeared in The Guardian and Washington Post) to 57 percent in July, according to Annalect, Omnicom Media Group's data and analytics company.

The findings have huge implications for the targeted advertising because the more concerned Internet users are about privacy, the more likely they are to change settings and block tracking.

"If these trends continue, and Mozilla implements its plan for its Firefox browser to block most third-party cookies by default later this year, the ad industry's ability to effectively use third-party cookies for marketing purposes will decrease," the study concluded.

Annalect's study was based on three national online surveys conducted from May to July among 2,100 adults 18+. Because of the NSA story, Annelect extended its second quarter report into July to document the impact of the news on Internet users' privacy attitudes and practices.

When consumers were asked about their response to the NSA's collection of online information, nearly one-third (31 percent) said they were now taking action to protect their online privacy.

More Internet users changed browser settings, deleted or opted out of mobile tracking, and adjusted location tracking settings on mobile devices. For example, the percent of Internet users who adjusted their browser settings grew from 22 percent in first quarter to 36 percent in second quarter and 38 percent in July.

Other actions Internet users took after learning about the NSA Prism program were disabling cookie browsers, editing social media profiles, and researching ways to protect privacy.

Just because consumers are more concerned is no reason for advertisers to change their strategy, yet, said Adam Gitlin, global managing director of Annalect. "We'll be looking [in our next study] to see if it's a lasting response," he said.

Gitlin said he wasn't concerned that privacy concerns about government surveillance would conflate privacy concerns about ad tracking since the ad industry offers consumers the opportunity to opt-out of targeted ads. "There's almost zero transparency with the NSA and very little control over what you can do about it. That's beyond frustrating," Gitlin said.


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