Research result: what percentage will consent to tracking for advertising?

This note presents the results of a survey of 300+ publishers, adtech, brands, and various others, on whether users will consent to tracking under the GDPR and the ePrivacy Regulation. 
In early August we published a note on consent, and asked whether people would click “yes”. We would like to thank the 300+ colleagues who responded to our research request. Now we present the results.

Tracking for a single brand, on a single site.

305 respondents were asked by a publisher to permit a named brand and its analytics partners to track them on the site. A previous note explains the design of this notice.

It is important to note that this is a limited consent notice. It asks to track behaviour on one site only, and for one brand only, in addition to “analytics partners”. This notice would not satisfy regulators if it were used to cover the vast chain of controllers and processors involved in conventional behavioural targeting.
Even so, four fifths (79%) of respondents said they would click “No” to this limited consent request.

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Only 21% said they would click “OK”. Moreover, as the chart below shows, only 14% were “very highly” or “highly” confident that the average user would also do so.
Respondents are concerned about how their own behaviour online is tracked for advertising, and would avail of proposed measures in the ePrivacy Regulation to protect themselves. Two thirds (67%) of respondents reported being “very highly” or “highly” concerned about their online behaviour being tracked  (and half of these said they were “very highly” concerned).

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Device tracking preferences

Respondents were shown a tracking preferences menu of the kind proposed in the latest draft of the ePrivacy Regulation.[1] They were asked what they would select if shown the message on their own device.
This shows “Accept only first party tracking” selected by default, as proposed in European Parliament rapporter’s draft report.)[2] However, only 20% of respondents said they would select this.
Only 5% were willing to “accept all tracking”. 56% said they would select “Reject tracking unless strictly necessary for services I request”.
The very large majority (81%) of respondents said they would not consent to having their behaviour tracked by companies other than the website they are visiting. Users’ apparent allowance for 1st parties, but objection to 3rd parties, should be heartening for publishers.

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The consenting audience will be tiny

Only a very small proportion (3%) believe that the average user will consent to “web-wide” tracking for the purposes of advertising (tracking by any party, anywhere on the web).
However, almost a third believe that users will consent if forced to do so by “tracking walls”, that deny access to a website unless a visitor agrees to be tracked. Tracking walls, however, are prohibited under Article 7 of the GDPR, the rules of which are already formalised and will apply in law from late May 2018.[3] 

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Publishers see opportunity in adtech need to seek consent 

If adtech companies persist in using old-school personal data, rather than transition to safer non-personal data technologies, then they are likely to have to rely on publishers to facilitate consent requests to their users.  A large majority of publishers viewed this as a potential commercial opportunity. 27% of publishers said “yes”, and 34% said “maybe”, when asked if they saw a potential commercial opportunity in their ability to seek consent from data subjects on behalf of adtech companies that have no direct relationship with them.

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Most adtech colleagues (74%) also anticipate that they may have to compensate publishers for the opportunity to seek consent from their visitors. (Caveat: the sample included 19 adtech respondents, of the 305 total).

Safer ads, and safer data, rather than consent.

These results are not definitive, and we have not undertaken a full scale research project in the production of this note. They do, however, seem to reflect the reality. We take heart from the publication of a survey of some 11,000 respondents by GFK, commissioned by trade groups as supporting collateral in their lobbying against measures in the ePrivacy Regulation. The GFK study notes that only “20% would be happy for their data to be shared with third parties for advertising purposes”.[4] This is a remarkable conclusion for a study that argues for, rather than against, old-school behavioural targeting, because it shows that few will opt-in. The parties involved in the study should be commended for including it, and not burying it. We do note, however, that the finding was not given the headline status that it warranted.
The results presented in this note should trouble any industry colleagues who plan to tackle GDPR and the ePrivacy Regulation by seeking consent, as a means to process personal data largely in the same way as usual. It appears that consent may not be forthcoming.
Adtech must rapidly transition from using old-school personal data to safer non-personal data technologies. We can draw inspiration from the automobile industry, which is transitioning from high pollution combustion technology to electric in response to regulatory pressure.
Safer data and safer advertising can enable programmatic buying, and sophisticated targeting, without requiring consent. The market parallel with the auto industry should be heartening for publishers, since if all petrol and diesel engines were to be outlawed in 2018 without some special dispensation, then demand for – and prices of – hybrid and electric vehicles would rise.

Read next:

Implications for Google and Facebook

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[1] Rapporteur’s draft report on the proposal for a regulation of the European concerning the respect for private life and the protection of personal data in electronic communications and repealing Directive 2002/58/EC, June 2017.
[2] ibid., Recital 23. 
[3] Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation) [2016] OJ L119/1.
See Recital 42’s reference to “without detriment”, and Recital 43’s discussion of “freely given” consent, and Article 7(2) prohibition of conditionality. See also the UK Information Commissioner’s Office’s draft guidance on consent, 31 March 2017, p. 21, which explicitly prohibits “tracking walls”.
[4] “Europe Online: an experience driven by advertising”, GFK, 2017, p. 7. (URL:

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