Usability of Browser-Based Tools for Web-Search Privacy

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CitationYale University Technical Report YALEU/DCS/TR-1424, 2010
AuthorsFelipe Saint-Jean
Joan Feigenbaum


Web search is currently a source of growing concern about personal privacy. It is an essential and central part of most users' activity online and therefore one through which a significant amount of personal information may be revealed. In an earlier paper[PWS], we showed that there are security weaknesses in some popular general-purpose Web-privacy tools. We went on to show that, if one is willing to use a tool aimed specifically at {\it search} privacy, it is possible to avoid these weaknesses, and we presented PWS (for ``Private Web search''), a Firefox extension that avoids them. In [PWS], we also claimed that PWS is easier to use than Firefox extensions aimed at general Web privacy. This paper presents the results of a user study that supports that claim. Specifically, subjects had significantly more difficulty using the TPTV bundle (``Tor, Privoxy, Torbutton, Vidalia'') for web search than they did simply using Google with no privacy enhancements. Users of PWS did much better. In an attempt to understand the reasons for adoption of web-privacy technology (or the lack thereof), we also surveyed the study participants about their level of concern about web privacy and their reasons for using or not using brower-based privacy tools. Most users expressed concern about privacy and willingness to take action to address it, but they also said that they would do not use Firefox extensions such as TPTV or PWS because of the latency that these extensions introduce to the search process.

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