Privacy Targets: Three User Studies on Internet Privacy and Targeted Advertising

Time: August 10, 2010 - 4:30 PM - 5:50 PM

Location: DEC@INI (Information Networking Institute, Room A104)


The Silicon Valley Seminar series welcomes Aleecia M. McDonald, a Ph.D. candidate in Engineering & Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, where she is a member of the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security (CUPS) research laboratory. Ms. McDonald will present "Privacy Targets: Three User Studies on Internet Privacy and Targeted Advertising."

The seminar will be broadcast live from Silicon Valley. All are welcome to participate in Pittsburgh at the DEC@INI, in the lower level of the Information Networking Institute.

Speaker: Aleecia M. McDonald

Talk Abstract:

Targeted advertising, including behavioral advertising, collects data about an individual's online activities to select advertisements to display. Targeted ads have enjoyed commercial success, and have the potential to reduce costs to advertisers while increasing relevance to consumers. However, there are questions about consumer's online privacy, and there is both regulatory and legislative interest in these topics.

In three user studies we found limited understanding of technologies used in targeted advertising, including confusion between cookies and history. We studied participants' views about behavioral advertising to other popular types of advertising (contextual, affiliate, cloud-based, and DPI-based) and found they would prefer random ads in all cases except for contextual. A small subset of the population welcomes the benefits of targeted advertising while a small subset rejects it. In the middle, most respondents try to ignore ads and do not see any reason to share their data with advertisers. Some people who are very privacy protective would not pay for privacy because they feel it is wrong to pay for privacy. While most respondents are aware behavioral advertising takes place, many do not believe there could ever be ads based on their email content, despite using Gmail. It appears mental models of privacy protections in the off-line world carry over into online expectations of privacy. Discussion will conclude with suggestions for policy makers and technologists.

Speaker Bio: Ms. McDonald holds an MS in Public Policy and Management and a BA in Professional Writing, both from Carnegie Mellon. Her findings have been featured in media outlets such as the Washington Post, Ars Technica, and Free Press' Media Minute, and have contributed to the testimony before the Federal Trade Commission.