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Report Concludes Internet Privacy Tools Are Confusing

By - Source: Carneie Mellon University | B 8 comments

Browser developers as well as security software makers need to make the features of privacy tools much more transparent to the average user, a study by Carnegie Mellon concluded.

According to the researchers, it is difficult for Internet users to drop out of advertising tracking and preserve their privacy.

"All nine of the tools we tested have serious usability flaws," said Lorrie Cranor, director of the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory (CUPS). "We found that most people were confused by the instructions and had trouble installing or configuring the tools correctly. Often, the settings they chose failed to protect their privacy as much as they expected, or to do anything at all."

The study included Mozilla Firefox 5 and Internet Explorer 9 as well as DAA Consumer Choice, Evidon Global Opt-Out, PrivacyMark, Ghostery 2.5.3, TACO 4.0, Adblock Plus 1.3.9 and IE9 Tracking Protection. 45 people without technical training included in the study were assigned tools to test based on their browser and operating system preferences.

The study found that users can't distinguish between trackers, or if a software uses "inappropriate defaults" and do not block tracking by default, or that software fails to explain privacy settings to enable a user to make privacy settings decisions. Most software titles do not provide feedback on which companies seek tracking information. Users are also apparently interested in privacy settings that "do not break" features. According to the researchers, "most tools suffered from major usability flaws" as well.

"The status quo clearly is insufficient to empower people to protect their privacy from OBA companies," Cranor said. "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."

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  • 2 Hide
    de5_Roy , November 2, 2011 6:12 AM
    the hell? mozilla and adblock are quite easy to understand and configure.
    ie otoh is really confusing. it is even more confusing with the advanced settings.
    and most cyber criminal relentlessly attack ie.
    browser should just publish softwares that have privacy settings cranked up all the way to the highest settings out of the box.(which they never will because it will cost them (ad, sponsor, data harvesting) money.)
  • -1 Hide
    memadmax , November 2, 2011 6:46 AM
    oh oh, I hear nanny state....

    Anyways, FF+adblock+noscript=win.

    I haven't had a browser attack in quite sometime now, and have even trashed my AV and OS firewall in favor of my router hardware based firewall last week.
  • 2 Hide
    dfusco , November 2, 2011 11:38 AM
    You can't fix stupid...
  • 0 Hide
    jacobdrj , November 2, 2011 12:24 PM
    Douglas: Your thumbnail should have been a picture of a blue sky and green grass...
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 2, 2011 2:32 PM
    anything involving security is confusing, because it is not simply just the technology, it's a discipline
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 2, 2011 9:21 PM
    How about educate users. Not everything out there in IT land can "just work". Car owners know to change oil rotate tires and all that preventative maintenence, and if they can't do it themselves they pay for the service to be done. Same thing in IT either learn or pay a professional to harden your system for you.
  • 0 Hide
    eddieroolz , November 3, 2011 11:14 PM
    I could've told you without all the research. Obviously people are going to have issues understanding security; they still have issues understanding how computers even work.
  • 0 Hide
    casand , March 1, 2012 6:53 AM
    Internet privacy tools are confusing because it is more complicated enough.
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