Emilee Rader bio photo

Emilee Rader

Associate Professor @ the University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Awareness of Behavioral Tracking and Information Privacy Concern in Facebook and Google

by: Emilee Rader


Internet companies record data about users as they surf the web, such as the links they have clicked on, search terms they have used, and how often they read all the way to the end of an online news article. This evidence of past behavior is aggregated both across websites and across individuals, allowing algorithms to make inferences about users’ habits and personal characteristics. Do users recognize when their behaviors provision information that may be used in this way, and is this knowledge associated with concern about unwanted access to information about themselves they would prefer not to reveal? In this online experiment, the majority of a sample of web-savvy users was aware that Internet companies like Facebook and Google can collect data about their actions on these websites, such as what links they click on. However, this awareness was associated with lower likelihood of concern about unwanted access. Awareness of the potential consequences of data aggregation, such as Facebook or Google knowing what other websites one visits or one’s political party affiliation, was associated with greater likelihood of reporting concern about unwanted access. This suggests that greater transparency about inferences enabled by data aggregation might help users associate seemingly innocuous actions like clicking on a link with what these actions say about them.


Emilee Rader. “Awareness of Behavioral Tracking and Information Privacy Concern in Facebook and GoogleSymposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS). Menlo Park, CA. July 2014.

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