Behavioral marketing is one of the cornerstones of Web advertising, but most Americans do not like it, a joint study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and UC Berkeley’s Center for Law and Technology finds (PDF). Sixty-six percent of Americans do not want advertising that is geared towards their perceived interests and generated by captured information. The amount of public distrust of behavioral marketing is so high that 63 percent of Americans believe that advertisers should be required by law to immediately delete user information.

The question of age comes out quite markedly in the survey, as the amount of respondents who wanted websites to show them targeted ads falls as the age rises.

Forty-five percent of people in the 18-24 age range wanted targeted ads, but the percentages of ad-positive responses fell to 41 percent for people aged 25-34, 33 percent for ages 35-49, and all the way down to 18 percent for ages 65-89.

This age difference makes it difficult to truly gauge sentiment, especially as there’s a whole industry of journalists and writers built on the exaggeration of the enlightenment of digital natives versus older generations of internet Luddites.

Obviously, behavioral marketing will become even more acceptable as all these generations age, but it isn’t certain if younger people are more accepting of it because it has existed for a larger portion of their lifespan or if it’s an example of older generations’ slower adaptation to fundamental change.

No matter what, there’s a strong belief that target advertising needs to be legislated.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents believe there should be a law that gives people the right to know everything a website knows about them, and 92 percent believe there should be a law to make websites and advertisers delete all of a person’s information immediately if requested.

“Americans’ widespread rejection of relevant tailored advertising is particularly startling because it flies in the face of marketers’ consistent contention that Americans desire for relevant commercial messages justifies a variety of tracking activities,” the study concludes.

By Mark Alvarez