How Can and Would People Protect From Online Tracking?

Authors: Maryam Mehrnezhad (Newcastle University, UK), Kovila Coopamootoo (Newcastle University, UK), Ehsan Toreini (Durham University, UK)

Volume: 2022
Issue: 1
Pages: 105–125

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Abstract: Online tracking is complex and users find it challenging to protect themselves from it. While the academic community has extensively studied systems and users for tracking practices, the link between the data protection regulations, websites’ practices of presenting privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs), and how users learn about PETs and practice them is not clear. This paper takes a multidimensional approach to find such a link. We conduct a study to evaluate the 100 top EU websites, where we find that information about PETs is provided far beyond the cookie notice. We also find that opting-out from privacy settings is not as easy as opting-in and becomes even more difficult (if not impossible) when the user decides to opt-out of previously accepted privacy settings. In addition, we conduct an online survey with 614 participants across three countries (UK, France, Germany) to gain a broad understanding of users’ tracking protection practices. We find that users mostly learn about PETs for tracking protection via their own research or with the help of family and friends. We find a disparity between what websites offer as tracking protection and the ways individuals report to do so. Observing such a disparity sheds light on why current policies and practices are ineffective in supporting the use of PETs by users.

Keywords: privacy, privacy-enhancing technology, tracking, user-centric, GDPR, tracking protection

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