Survey: Percentage of users saying they opt out of targeted ads has nearly doubled

Amid debates over Do Not Track and increased activity in ad tech, a report released Monday from privacy management firm TRUSTe signals that consumers are increasingly taking actions to protect their online privacy.

Last year, the firm found that 27 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 18 indicated that they will opt out of online behavioral advertising to manage privacy. This year, that figure has nearly doubled to 50 percent. Additionally, 76 percent said they don’t allow companies to share their personal information with a third party (up from 67 percent last year) and 90 percent said they use browser controls to protect their privacy, including deleting cookies (which is up from 84 percent last year). Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they “do not like” online behavioral advertising, which is an increase from 54 percent in 2011.

TRUSTe’s business is based on convincing companies that they need to think about privacy (the company audits privacy policies and provides other privacy-related services) and word choice and context can influence outcomes of consumer opinion surveys. And TRUSTe is relying on self-reporting so there’s a chance that people are reporting a tougher stance on privacy than their actions actually reflect. But TRUSTe’s findings are pretty consistent with recent independent research and data.

In May, Mozilla said adoption rates for Do Not Track privacy features on Firefox were 8.6 percent for the desktop users and 19 percent for mobile users, which was up from less than 5 percent for desktop users in September 2011.  A March survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 73 percent of respondents would “not be okay” with a search engine tracking searches because it was an invasion of privacy and 68 percent said they were “not okay” with targeted advertising because they didn’t like having their online behavior tracked and analyzed.

As big data grows and online tracking techniques become more sophisticated, TRUSTe’s results indicate that consumers are becoming increasingly aware that personal data is valuable currency.  Twitter’s recent decision to support Mozilla’s Do Not Track privacy controls and Microsoft’s announcement that it wanted to make Do Not Track a default could be making these issues more top of mind for consumers. Increased regulatory interest in online tracking, as well as ongoing news about tech companies’ privacy gaffes, are also likely contributing to consumer awareness.

Between news that Facebook is planning to release a new mobile ad targeting product and recent M&A activity in the space, mobile advertising is heating up. But, as TRUSTe’s report further shows, privacy continues to be a big concern for mobile users. For example, while 62 percent of smartphone users say they’re aware of mobile tracking for targeted ads, only one percent likes it. Less than 10 percent of smartphone users said they’re willing to share specific location information, web browsing behavior, their home address or contacts with mobile apps, the report said.