Privacy and Advertising Mail
By University of California, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology
"Our findings could serve as a wake-up call to markets, the USPS, and regulators to more fully explore citizens’ rejection of direct advertising mail and find ways to address their concerns while preserving the fundamental service provided by the USPS."
Date Released: December 2012
Type of Promotional Material/Activity Tested: Consumer attitudes towards advertising mail delivered to households by the U.S. Postal Service.
Sample Population: 1,203 U.S. adult internet users.
Methodology: Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (678) and cell phone (525, including 235 without a landline phone). Overall, 6,906 working landlines and 8,688 working cell phones were dialed. The response rate for the landline samples was 16 percent. The response rate for the cellular samples was 14 percent. The content of the survey was entirely composed by Berkeley Law’s Chris Jay Hoofnagle & Jennifer M. Urban. Interviews were done in English by Princeton Data Source from January 27-February 12, 2012. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ± 3.4 percentage points.
Metric: The survey asked, "Some people think there should be a system like the National Do Not Call list that would help reduce the amount of advertisements you receive in your postal mailbox. Would you strongly support, support, oppose, or strongly oppose the creation of such a system?" The survey avoided any mention of “privacy” as a value, in order to avoid biasing the question in favor of a connection between advertising mail and privacy.
MAJORITY OF AMERICAN SUPPORT DO NOT MAIL
- The survey finds that 43% of U.S. adults would “strongly support” a do-not mail system, 38% would “support” it and 17% would oppose or strongly oppose it.
Source: Privacy and Advertising Mail survey by UC Berkeley School of Law
SUPPORT ACROSS ALL GROUPS
- The survey authors recoded the responses to a binary variable by combining the “strongly support” and “support” groups and the “oppose” and “strongly oppose” groups. When combined in this way, support for DNM proved to remain constant across all income groups, all age groups, all educational levels, and across all political ideologies (very conservative to very liberal).
WOMEN SUPPORT DNM MORE THAN MEN
- The survey determined both women and men support do-not-mail, with women supporting it more than men (86% of women compared to 78% of men). The authors propose "perhaps this difference is explained by the amount of standard mail women receive. Among one-person households, women receive more standard mail than men. Or perhaps women are more likely to sort mail in the household, and thus be confronted with the mail on a daily basis. Women might also be especially concerned about intrusion or privacy-control issues."
ALL POLITICAL AFFILIATIONS SUPPORT DNM
- All political affiliations surveyed express strong support for DNM with no statistically significant difference among Democrats (who support DNM at 78.5%) and Republicans (who support DNM at 80.1%). Independents are more likely to support DNM (87.2%) than Democrats and Republicans, which is statistically significant.
FROM THE AUTHORS: "Americans may view advertising mail as a privacy issue because of database activities underlying the targeting of mail. They also may dislike the sense of intrusion created when advertising material flows into the home...Although the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) has operated a self-regulatory opt-out system since 1971, the "Mail Preference Service," only blocks only about 1 percent of advertising mail."
"In considering why Americans may think of advertising mail as a “privacy” issue, we suggest that this may be both because of the extensive collection and use of personal information targeting and sending it entails, and a reaction to a sense of intrusion created by receiving unwanted mailpieces ...Our data contribute to the overall trend by showing that most Americans would like to have some ability to block advertising mail....Survey research showing annoyance with advertising mail and support for a do-not-mail mechanism does not in itself justify regulatory action. Nor does it specify how DNM should be implemented if it were adopted."
"The USPS' current course of increasing its reliance on advertising mail, while fiscally understandable, could cause all mail to simply become “junk” in the eyes of Americans. Americans who can abandon the USPS are more and more likely to in light of increasing advertising mail volumes....Given the importance of advertising mail as an industry, and of the USPS to United States economic, security, and social interests, our findings could serve as a wake-up call to markets, the USPS, and regulators to more fully explore citizens’ rejection of direct advertising mail and find ways to address their concerns while preserving the fundamental service provided by the USPS."
Complexity rating of original source: 1 (Complex statistical analysis scale: 1= none, 2= moderate, 3 = difficult)
Source: University of California, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology Research Paper, Privacy and Advertising Mail, Chris Jay Hoofnagle, Jennifer M. Urban, Su Li, December 3, 2012.