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Study: User tools to limit ad tracking are clunky

Juan Carlos Perez | Nov. 1, 2011
People who want to limit the behavioral advertising and tracking they are subjected to on the Web aren't well served by some popular privacy tools, according to a Carnegie Mellon University study.

"We'll get there. We'll create an awesome product," he said in a phone interview. "We're making it easier every day."

There is an ongoing discussion among privacy software vendors, online advertising providers and government regulators about simplifying tools and processes for consumers so that they can more easily control online behavioral ad tracking, such as through the proposed Do Not Track standard, Shavell said.

Complicating matters is that interest among consumers in tools that offer control over online tracking is fairly new, so users aren't generally familiar with this type of software, he said.

A spokeswoman for Microsoft said the Tracking Protection feature in IE9 lets users add "an industry curated" tracking protection list with one click.

"Tracking Protection Lists offers consumers an opt-in mechanism to identify and block many forms of undesired tracking," she said via e-mail.

These lists, compiled by third-party organizations with expertise in this field, let users control which third-party site content can track them when they're online, and they can be designed to either "block" or "allow" certain third party content, she said.

"IE9 also includes the broadly discussed Do Not Track User Preference -- via both a DOM property and an HTTP header, as described in the W3C submission -- as a secondary method," she added.

Scott Meyer, founder and CEO of Evidon, said his company's products aim to create "transparency," not just opt-out mechanisms.

"Transparency enables consumers to make more informed decisions, and the fact is that the vast majority choose not to opt-out when presented with more information," he said in an e-mailed statement. "Our research ... shows that 67 percent of consumers feel more positive about brands which give them this level of transparency and control."

Jim Brock, Privacy Choice's CEO and founder, said independent tests such as the one from Carnegie Mellon are very valuable, even if they are subjective, and Privacy Choice will take the findings into account.

However, Privacy Choice's principal blocking service for consumers is TrackerBlock, which the Carnegie Mellon researchers didn't include in the study, and not PrivacyMark, he said via e-mail.

In addition, internal surveys at Privacy Choice reveal that more than 75 percent of PrivacyMark users understand what the service does and would recommend it to a friend, he said.

The Digital Advertising Alliance, Mozilla and Adblock Plus didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.


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