Users Unfamiliar With Internet Privacy Tools
November 1, 2011

Users Unfamiliar With Internet Privacy Tools

Researchers said on Monday that Internet users will need easier "opt-out" tools to stop advertisers and companies from tracking their online habits.

A team from Carnegie Mellon University found that privacy options in popular browsers were hard for the typical user to understand or to configure successfully.

"All nine of the tools we tested have serious usability flaws," Lorrie Cranor, director of the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory (CUPS), said in a press release. "We found that most people were confused by the instructions and had trouble installing or configuring the tools correctly."

Only behavior advertising caused some privacy advocates to press for regulations limiting the information companies can gather.

The researchers recruited 45 people without technical training who use the Internet frequently to help them with their assessment.

The team found that users cannot distinguish between trackers and are unfamiliar with companies that track their behavior.

They also found that users were unsure when the tools caused parts of a website to stop working.

Researchers found that users did not understand AdBlock Plus' filtering rules, and none of the participants who tested Internet Explorer's Tracking Protection realized they needed to subscribe to it until later.

"The status quo clearly is insufficient to empower people to protect their privacy from OBA companies," Cranor said in a press release. "A lot of effort is being put into creating these tools to help consumers, but it will all be wasted – and people will be left vulnerable – unless a greater emphasis is placed on usability."

The report entitled "Why Johnny Can't Opt Out" is available online at the university's website.


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