04 Nov 2011

Internet privacy tools said to be confusing for many users

A report from Carnegie Mellon University said internet security and privacy tools are confusing and ineffective for many users, with commonly available "opt-out" tools in web browsers the most difficult things for people who go online.

"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 people often made choices that didn't protect them at all while online. The status quo is insufficient in empowering people to protect themselves online from companies and a greater emphasis needs to be put on usability for internet security tools, she said.

The report said users want protections that don't break other things online. Users told Carnegie Mellon that they did not like when the tools had caused part of a website to stop working, as certain internet security tools can block out parts of a website completely. The report said there should be more communication and easier interfaces so users can better understand the tools that are necessary to protect them online.