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Privacy in Mobile Advertising: What Americans Have to Say

Matt Kaplan
Content Strategist
5 min read
Posted on October 29, 2021

What do consumers across the U.S. have to say about privacy, mobile advertising and data collection? Issues around how personal data is used and by whom have been making headlines for years now, but how are Americans actually thinking about the issue? That’s what we wanted to find out. 

In September, we polled over 1,800 adults across the U.S. through InMobi Pulse, InMobi’s mobile market research solution, asking them how they feel about advertising and data collection. Here’s what we uncovered. 

Key Highlights 

  • 57% said they would prefer that mobile apps have ads, rather than having to pay to download apps. 
  • 42% said they don’t want ads to be personalized to them at all. 
  • Among those between 18 and 34, 44% said they want ads in mobile apps to be personalized to their interests, while 54% are comfortable sharing data on their interests with advertisers. 
  • 59% of Americans have not made privacy changes to their cellphones recently. 

Are Americans Okay Using Ad-Supported Mobile Apps? 

Overall, 57% said they would prefer that mobile apps have ads, rather than having to pay to download apps. In comparison, just 14% said they would prefer to pay to go ad free on their favorite mobile apps. 

This is hardly a surprising sentiment, as data from the major app stores certainly reinforces this consumer trend. Free apps are some of the most popular and well-liked apps, and those developers have to make money somehow. 

It is worthwhile to note these percentages, as they potentially reveal a disconnect between what users want and expect and what advertisers and app publishers want. Let’s dive into what we mean here. 

Consumer Sentiment About Personal Data, Ad Targeting And Personalizing Advertising 

Just because Americans are comfortable with ads doesn’t mean they want to share their data with advertisers. Here’s what our survey found: 

  • Half said they are not comfortable letting any of their apps track their activity for advertising purposes. 
  • 60% said they are not comfortable sharing their data with operating systems, carriers, brands they frequent or advertisers. 
  • 42% said they don’t want ads to be personalized to them at all. 
  • 43% said that because of new mobile app privacy options, like Apple’s introduction of the AppTrackingTransparency framework with the release of iOS 14.5, they feel that their data is better protected. 
  • 63% of Android users said that as soon as Google introduces the ability to allow Android users to opt out of apps using data for advertising purposes, they are likely or highly likely to limit this tracking.  

Understanding The Mobile Advertising Value Exchange 

What this shows is that many Americans don’t have a full understanding of how mobile advertising works today. Here’s what we mean. 

To ensure an app is free to download but also so that it can generate revenue, app developers will typically introduce ad space into their apps. While this is not the only monetization strategy available to app publishers, it’s certainly one of the most popular – especially among free-to-use apps. 

For advertisers, it’s only valuable to place ads within apps when they know who they are targeting. After all, why bother spending money on an ad if the people who see the ad are highly unlikely to ever be paying customers with you? 

One way to read the data: consumers don’t understand the value exchange inherent in free-to-play apps. Americans by and large like free apps, but they don’t like the steps those apps have to take to bring in revenue. 

Of course, there’s another way to read the data: Advertisers don’t have to know everything about an individual to successfully advertise to them. For example, advertisers can use contextual targeting to run ads that are likely to be seen by the right people while also preserving user privacy. As the data shows, these kinds of privacy-first advertising models will have to become more popular, in no small part because it’s what the majority of Americans want. 

What Data Will Americans Share With Advertisers? 

That being said, while many Americans are unwilling to share personal data with advertisers and highly value privacy, not everyone takes this stance. In particular, younger Americans (Millennials and Gen Zers) are more comfortable sharing their data. Here’s what our data showed for those between the ages of 18 and 34. 

  • 44% said they want ads in mobile apps to be personalized to their interests. 
  • Close to one in four said they would let social apps track their activity for advertising purposes, while 21% said the same thing about gaming apps. 
  • 22% said they are comfortable sharing their data with the brands they shop with for advertising purposes, while one in five said the same thing about sharing data with mobile phone developers (namely Apple and Google). 
  • 54% say they are comfortable sharing data on their interests with advertisers, while 35% said they are okay sharing data about what they are currently shopping for with advertisers. 

Why are younger Americans more likely than others to be comfortable sharing their data? One possible hypothesis is that as members of more digitally-native generations, Millennials and Gen Zers better understand how the internet economy works and perhaps just have a different understanding of privacy and how data is used and collected. 

How App Publishers and Advertisers Can More Effectively Communicate With End Users Around Privacy 

As our data shows, while advertisers and publishers find value in using additional personal data to power their in-app advertising efforts, consumers are largely unwilling to share their data. So what can be done to get over this impasse? 

In particular, communication is key. The mobile ad tech ecosystem should make plain why data is being collected, who the data is shared with and how that data is protected. 

It’s also helpful to make it easy for Americans to control their browsing and scrolling experience. For instance, 55% said the cookie preference pop-up is disruptive to their mobile web browsing experience. These kinds of user experience issues could help to explain why 59% of Americans have not made privacy changes to their cellphones recently. 

How do you see privacy in mobile advertising evolving? Let us know on social media! You can reach out to us on LinkedInTwitterFacebook or Instagram

About the Author     

Matthew Kaplan has over a decade of digital marketing experience, working to support the content goals of the world’s biggest B2B and B2C brands. He is a passionate app user and evangelist, working to support diverse marketing campaigns across devices. 

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