March 9, 2012 at 8:56 AM ET
Search users say they view personalized Internet search results and targeted advertising as an invasion of privacy, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.
In the Pew survey, 73 percent said they are not comfortable with a search engine keeping track of their searches "and using that information to personalize future search results because they feel it is an invasion of privacy," while 23 percent said they are OK with the notion.
Nor do users want their search results to be used by a search engine to rank future search results they do: 65 percent said doing so will limit the search results they see, and they don't want that search engines to collect information about their searches to do so; 29 percent disagreed, saying personalized search monitoring will give them results in the future that are more relevant.
Targeted advertising is also opposed by 68 percent, who say they "don't like having their online behavior tracked analyzed," while 28 percent say they're fine with because it means they see ads about products they're really interested in.
"Search engines are increasingly important to people in their navigation of information spaces, but users are generally uncomfortable with the idea of their search histories being used to target information to them," said Kristen Purcell, Pew Internet associate director for research and author of the report, in a statement.
"A clear majority of searchers say that they feel that search engines keeping track of search history is an invasion of privacy, and they also worry about their search results being limited to what’s deemed relevant to them."
Not surprisingly, "Google continues to dominate the list of most used search engines," Pew said, used by 83 percent of those queried.
And despite the privacy concerns, 73 percent say that "most or all the information they find as they use search engines is accurate and trustworthy"; 52 percent say they believe their search results "have gotten more relevant and useful over time."
The findings from "Search Engine Use 2012" are based on a survey done Jan. 20-Feb. 19 among 2,253 adults age 18 and over. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 2 percentage points.
There are steps users can take to reduce how much personal information is collected about them by checking their privacy settings for search engines and Web browsers. Pew said that 38 percent of online adults said they "are aware of ways to limit how much personal information websites can collect about them. Of those who are aware of ways to limit data collection, some of the popular tactics include: 81 percent delete their web history, 75 percent use the privacy settings of websites to control what’s captured about them, and 65 percent change their browser settings to limit the information that is collected."
“Many people express concerns about targeted search and ads, but most Internet users don’t have a sense that they can take steps to limit the amount of personal information that is captured and used by search engines and websites,” said Joanna Brenner, Pew Internet web coordinator and report co-author, in a statement.
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