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Report Concludes Internet Privacy Tools Are Confusing

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."