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According to a new Pew report, as widely reported in the trade and mainstream press, fear of spyware and viruses is changing user behavior.
The report says:

  • 81% of internet users say they have stopped opening email attachments unless they are sure these documents are safe.
  • 48% of internet users say they have stopped visiting particular Web sites that they fear might deposit unwanted programs on their computers.
  • 25% of internet users say they have stopped downloading music or video files from peer-to-peer networks to avoid getting unwanted software programs on their computers.
  • 18% of internet users say they have started using a different Web browser to avoid software intrusions.

Then there are the companies failing to adhere to best practices in using personal information in marketing campaigns.

Assuming the Pew findings accurately reflect the general Internet user population, it spells trouble for email marketers — and perhaps Internet advertising more broadly as people seek to erect more barriers to intrusive advertising and the use of their personal information by marketers (see, e.g., the cookie deletion debate).

In my own paranoid case, for example, I use the Yahoo! toolbar Anti-Spy button to delete tracking cookies on a daily basis (sometimes more frequently).

In the same way that advertiser fears of click fraud may accelerate the development of alternatives to PPC, spyware and related fears may cause accelerated development of RSS as a marketing vehicle.

Online marketers need to adhere to best practices, avoid stealth tactics and generally respect consumers and their intelligence. If they don't, they may find that the "ad skipping" phenomenon migrates, along with the ad dollars, from TV to the Internet.

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