Internet privacy tools said failing

Oct. 31, 2011 at 8:29 PM
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PITTSBURGH, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Internet privacy tools meant to keep advertisers and other companies from tracking users' Web browsing are confusing and ineffective, U.S. researchers say.

Commonly available "opt-out" tools in most Web browsers are difficult for most Web users to understand and use, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University reported Monday.

Privacy options in popular browsers, as well as online tools or plug-ins for blocking access by certain Web sites, or otherwise opting out of tracking, were hard for the typical user to comprehend or to configure successfully, they said.

"All nine of the tools we tested have serious usability flaws," said Lorrie Cranor, director of the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon.

"We found that most people were confused by the instructions and had trouble installing or configuring the tools correctly," Cranor said. "Often, the settings they chose failed to protect their privacy as much as they expected, or to do anything at all."

The privacy tools are meant to be a response to the growth of online behavioral advertising, which targets Internet users with advertising based on their online activity, a Carnegie Mellon release said Monday.

"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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