The monetisation of consumer data is at the heart of the business models of online platforms. These platforms have brought huge benefits to consumers, but consumers lack control over what and how personal data is collected for the purpose of targeted advertising.
This report sets out the findings of qualitative research in which we explored how consumers feel about different methods used to collect data for targeted advertising. We conducted in-depth interviews with consumers about the use of first- and third-party data collection methods, where first-party collection is of data left by a user on the platform itself and third-party collection methods include tracking a user on third-party websites or through customer lists uploaded to the platform by another organisation.
We found that participants were unaware of the extent of the data collection used to inform targeted adverts and their attitudes towards collection varied across methods. There was a pronounced feeling of a lack of transparency related to third-party data collection methods and these methods were generally considered less acceptable than first-party data collection. Acceptance of data collection methods was informed by perceptions of legitimacy, privacy, proportionality and relevance, and the level of control available.
With regard to exercising control, the participants had a clear preference to opt in, rather than opt-out, to data collection for targeted advertising. Further, they wanted to be asked to consent to each data collection method individually.
Which? believes the insight from this research will be of value to online platforms interested in understanding how their customers feel about different methods of data collection and to the CMA and other organisations intending to regulate how much control consumers have over their personal data. We identify three key implications from the research:
Platforms need to be transparent about the use of different types of data collection methods for targeted adverts. Placing this information in privacy notices does not necessarily constitute transparency.
Informed consent should recognise the process used to gather data for targeting adverts, and not just whether advertising is targeted.
The findings support the CMA’s proposed interventions of an opt-in consent developed with “fairness for design” principles.