We provide tools to enhance users' trust in online world through transparency and control.
The goals of the Privatics team is to study the new privacy threats introduced by the information society and design privacy-preserving solutions to prevent or at least mitigate them. The team follows a multidisciplinary approach. It focuses on technical and scientific problems, but also considers the economical, legal and social aspects of privacy.
In the last few years, as a result of the proliferation of intrusive and privacy-invading ads, the use of ad-blockers and anti-tracking tools have become widespread. As of the second quarter of this year, 16% of online Americans, about 45 million people, had installed ad-blocking software, according to PageFair 2015 report. Meanwhile, 77 millions Europeans are blocking ads. All this accounts globally for $21,8 billion worth of blocked ads. The Internet economy is in danger since ads fuel the free content and services over Internet.
We believe that Adblockers are only a short-term solution, and that better tools are necessary to solve this problem in the long term. Most users are not against ads and are actually willing to accept some ads to help websites. Howewer, users want more control and transparency about the ads that they want to receive, and about the way they are tracked and profiled on the Internet.
As opposed to existing ad blockers that take a binary approach (i.e., block everything if you install them or block nothing otherwise), MyRealOnlineChoices project aims to provide users with the right tools that allow users to make fine-grained choices about their privacy and the ads that they want to receive. Our tools allow users to choose on which sites (more specifically, on which categories of sites) they want to block the trackers. For example, a user can choose to block the trackers on sites related to health or religion, but may choose not to block the trackers on sites related to sports or news. Similarly, a user might want to block ads that are targeted on some categories that he considers sensitive. Our tools provide this type of control to the users.
As trust between users and online entities is the key here, our project starts with transparency as the first key feature. We need tools that provide more transparency to users by indicating if an ad is retargeted or is delivered to users based on their interests or not. The ultimate goal is to enforce the user choices while sustaining the ad economy of the Internet. And thanks to this transparency feature, users can be aware of what is going on with their browsing data, and therefore can make an informed decision.
This extension lets you control how you are being tracked on the Internet. It allows you to choose the categories (e.g., health, adult) of the websites where you don’t want to be tracked on. When you browse the web, your visited webpages will be categorized on the fly and, depending on your choices, the extension will block the trackers (webpage by webpage) or not.
Existing anti-tracking (Ghostery, Disconnect etc.) and ad-blocking (AdBlock Plus etc.) tools block almost ALL trackers and as a result, ads. This has a negative impact on the Internet economy because free services/content on the Internet are fuelled by ads. As a result, websites are starting to block access to their content if they detect use of Ad-blockers or they ask users to move to a subscription-based model (where users have to pay to get access to the website).
This extension is testing another approach: It is trying to find a trade-off between privacy and economy, that would allow users to protect their privacy while still accessing to free content.
It is based on the assumption that most people are not against advertisements, but want to keep control over their data. We believe that some sites are more sensitive than others. In fact, most people don’t want to be tracked on “sensitive” websites (for example related to religion, health,…), but don’t see any problem to be tracked on less sensitive ones (such as news, sport,…). This extension allows you to take control and specify which on which categories of sites you don’t want to be tracked on! Furthermore, the extension also gives you the option to block the trackers on specific websites.Important notes:
It has two main goals. First, letting users know what is happening behind the scenes with their Web-browsing data. And secondly, enabling them to react accordingly, in a flexible and non-radical way, by giving users fine-grained control over advertising. MyAdChoices represents a first step towards bringing transparency to online advertising and constitutes the first class of smart ad blockers.
In terms of transparency, it allows users to find out the kind of ads they receive. It is able to identify three types of ads:
- Interest-based: they are delivered to users according to their Web-browsing interests.
- Non-interest-based: these are ads which are not based on users' browsing habits. For example, this would include location-based ads, contextual ads (related to the content of the page being visited) and generic ads.
- Retargeted: These are ads coming from advertisers that a user has previously visited.
On the other hand, in terms of ad blocking, it enables users to block/hide the three classes of ads above by ad-topic category (e.g., adult, religion and sports).
For more details about MyAdChoices, please, consult our paper available on Arxiv.