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Addressing privacy online: A Factorial Vignette Survey to Assess Privacy Expectations of Behavioral Advertising

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Principal Investigator(s):

Kirsten Martin
The George Washington University
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Sample size: 1572
Field period: 10/03/2012-03/08/2013


The goal of this submission is to request to be included in the general population experiments conducted by TESS. This factorial vignette survey on privacy expectations of targeted advertising online has been pilot tested and is part of a larger NSF-funded study (SBE directorate) on addressing privacy online. The request is for 500-750 respondents with additional funding available to cover costs not subsidized by TESS. The breadth of the project – privacy online – necessities a series of surveys tackling specific issues. TESS’s subsidized general population data collection is integral to maintain the breadth of the project and quality data collection methods.


The study tests the hypotheses that (a) individuals hold different privacy expectations based on the context of their online activity (Phase I) and (b) notice and consent varies in its effectiveness in addressing online privacy expectations across different contexts (Phase II).

TESS funded a fraction of (a) around targeted advertising online.

Experimental Manipulations:

The factorial vignettes varied based on...
(1) the context online
(2) the type of information
(3) the use of the information
(4) the length of time it was stored
(5) the type of advertising.

Subsequent surveys -- not funded by TESS but compared to the survey TESS partially funded - focused on tracking online and then the role of privacy notices in targeted advertising and tracking online. TESS funded portion of survey 1 of 4. Related surveys 2, 3, and 4 were submitted but not funded by TESS.

Key Dependent Variables:

The degree the described website met privacy expectations.

Summary of Findings:

For the TESS-funded survey, I found that typical targeting behavior online does not meet individuals' privacy expectations. In addition, consumers cared more about how the information was used rather than the type of information collected.

Related research then showed that respondents' believe their privacy expectations are respected in the privacy notices. The same survey was run and respondents were asked the degree the vignette conformed to the generic notice at the beginning. The results suggest that factors that are deemed privacy violations are also assumed to be covered by the privacy notice.

Finally, the TESS-funded results from GfK/Knowledge Networks were also compared to results from Amazon Mechanical Turk. The results suggest that the same theoretically generalizable results come from both. A sample of students were statistically different.

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