skip to main content

Title: Managing Intrusive Practices In The Browser: A User Centered Perspective
Browser users encounter a broad array of potentially intrusive practices: from behavioral profiling, to crypto-mining, fingerprinting, and more. We study people’s perception, awareness, understanding, and preferences to opt out of those practices. We conducted a mixed-methods study that included qualitative (n=186) and quantitative (n=888) surveys covering 8 neutrally presented practices, equally highlighting both their benefits and risks. Consistent with prior research focusing on specific practices and mitigation techniques, we observe that most people are unaware of how to effectively identify or control the practices we surveyed. However, our user-centered approach reveals diverse views about the perceived risks and benefits, and that the majority of our participants wished to both restrict and be explicitly notified about the surveyed practices. Though prior research shows that meaningful controls are rarely available, we found that many participants mistakenly assume opt-out settings are common but just too difficult to find. However, even if they were hypothetically available on every website, our findings suggest that settings which allow practices by default are more burdensome to users than alternatives which are contextualized to website categories instead. Our results argue for settings which can distinguish among website categories where certain practices are seen as permissible, proactively notify users about their presence, and otherwise deny intrusive practices by default. Standardizing these settings in the browser rather than being left to individual more » websites would have the advantage of providing a uniform interface to support notification, control, and could help mitigate dark patterns. We also discuss the regulatory implications of the findings. « less
; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Spatial reasoning skills contribute to performance in many STEM fields. For example, drawing sectional views of three-dimensional objects is an essential skill for engineering students. There is considerable variation in the spatial reasoning skills of prospective engineering students, putting some at risk for compromised performance in their classes. This study takes place in a first-year engineering Spatial Visualization course to integrate recent practices in engineering design education with cognitive psychology research on the nature of spatial learning. We employed three main pedagogical strategies in the course - 1) in class instruction on sketching; 2) spatial visualization training; and 3) manipulationmore »of physical objects (CAD/3D print creations). This course endeavors to use current technology, online accessibility, and implementation of the three pedagogical strategies to bring about student growth in spatial reasoning. This study is designed to determine the effect of adding two different spatial reasoning training apps to this environment. Over 230 students (three sections) participated in our study. In two of the three sections, students received interactive spatial visualization training using either a spatial visualization mobile touchscreen app in one section or an Augmented Reality (AR) app in the other section. Research suggests that there are benefits to using the Spatial Vis Classroom mobile app for college students.The app has been shown to increase student persistence resulting in large learning gains as measured by the Purdue assessment of spatial visualization (PSVT-R), especially for students starting with poor spatial visualization skills. The Spatial Vis Classroom app can be used in the classroom or assigned as homework. The AR app is designed to help users develop their mental rotation abilities. It is designed to support a holistic understanding of 3-dimensional objects, and research has shown that, in combination with a traditional curriculum, it increases students’ abilities also measured by the PSVT-R. Of particular interest, the data suggest that the app overcomes the advantage found by males over females in a traditional class alone focused on spatial reasoning. Both of the course sections were required to use the apps for approximately the same time in class and outside of class. Students in the control section were required to do hand sketching activities in class and outside of class, with roughly the same completion time as for the sections with the apps. Students grades were not affected by using the three different approaches as grading was based on completion only. Based on current literature, we hypothesize that overall benefits (PSVT-R gains) will be comparable across the 3 treatments but there will be different effects on attitude and engagement (confidence,enjoyment, and self-efficacy). Lastly, we hypothesize that the treatments will have different effects on male/female and ethnic categories of the study participants. The final paper will include an analysis of results and a report of the findings.« less
  2. Website privacy policies sometimes provide users the option to opt-out of certain collections and uses of their personal data. Unfortunately, many privacy policies bury these instructions deep in their text, and few web users have the time or skill necessary to discover them. We describe a method for the automated detection of opt-out choices in privacy policy text and their presentation to users through a web browser extension. We describe the creation of two corpora of opt-out choices, which enable the training of classifiers to identify opt-outs in privacy policies. Our overall approach for extracting and classifying opt-out choices combinesmore »heuristics to identify commonly found opt-out hyperlinks with supervised machine learning to automatically identify less conspicuous instances. Our approach achieves a precision of 0.93 and a recall of 0.9. We introduce Opt-Out Easy, a web browser extension designed to present available opt-out choices to users as they browse the web. We evaluate the usability of our browser extension with a user study. We also present results of a large-scale analysis of opt-outs found in the text of thousands of the most popular websites.« less
  3. Researchers, evaluators and designers from an array of academic disciplines and industry sectors are turning to participatory approaches as they seek to understand and address complex social problems. We refer to participatory approaches that collaboratively engage/ partner with stakeholders in knowledge creation/problem solving for action/social change outcomes as collaborative change research, evaluation and design (CCRED). We further frame CCRED practitioners by their desire to move beyond knowledge creation for its own sake to implementation of new knowledge as a tool for social change. In March and May of 2018, we conducted a literature search of multiple discipline-specific databases seeking collaborative,more »change-oriented scholarly publications. The search was limited to include peerreviewed journal articles, with English language abstracts available, published in the last five years. The search resulted in 526 citations, 236 of which met inclusion criteria. Though the search was limited to English abstracts, all major geographic regions (North America, Europe, Latin America/Caribbean, APAC, Africa and the Middle East) were represented within the results, although many articles did not state a specific region. Of those identified, most studies were located in North America, with the Middle East having only one identified study. We followed a qualitative thematic synthesis process to examine the abstracts of peer-reviewed articles to identify practices that transcend individual disciplines, sectors and contexts to achieve collaborative change. We surveyed the terminology used to describe CCRED, setting, content/topic of study, type of collaboration, and related benefits/outcomes in order to discern the words used to designate collaboration, the frameworks, tools and methods employed, and the presence of action, evaluation or outcomes. Forty-three percent of the reviewed articles fell broadly within the social sciences, followed by 26 percent in education and 25 percent in health/medicine. In terms of participants and/ or collaborators in the articles reviewed, the vast majority of the 236 articles (86%) described participants, that is, those who the research was about or from whom data was collected. In contrast to participants, partners/collaborators (n=32; 14%) were individuals or groups who participated in the design or implementation of the collaborative change effort described. In terms of the goal for collaboration and/or for doing the work, the most frequently used terminology related to some aspect of engagement and empowerment. Common descriptors for the work itself were ‘social change’ (n=74; 31%), ‘action’ (n=33; 14%), ‘collaborative or participatory research/practice’ (n=13; 6%), ‘transformation’ (n=13; 6%) and ‘community engagement’ (n=10; 4%). Of the 236 articles that mentioned a specific framework or approach, the three most common were some variation of Participatory Action Research (n=30; 50%), Action Research (n=40; 16.9%) or Community-Based Participatory Research (n=17; 7.2%). Approximately a third of the 236 articles did not mention a specific method or tool in the abstract. The most commonly cited method/tool (n=30; 12.7%) was some variation of an arts-based method followed by interviews (n=18; 7.6%), case study (n=16; 6.7%), or an ethnographic-related method (n=14; 5.9%). While some articles implied action or change, only 14 of the 236 articles (6%) stated a specific action or outcome. Most often, the changes described were: the creation or modification of a model, method, process, framework or protocol (n=9; 4%), quality improvement, policy change and social change (n=8; 3%), or modifications to education/training methods and materials (n=5; 2%). The infrequent use of collaboration as a descriptor of partner engagement, coupled with few reported findings of measurable change, raises questions about the nature of CCRED. It appears that conducting CCRED is as complex an undertaking as the problems that the work is attempting to address.« less
  4. Abstract Existing end-to-end-encrypted (E2EE) email systems, mainly PGP, have long been evaluated in controlled lab settings. While these studies have exposed usability obstacles for the average user and offer design improvements, there exist users with an immediate need for private communication, who must cope with existing software and its limitations. We seek to understand whether individuals motivated by concrete privacy threats, such as those vulnerable to state surveil-lance, can overcome usability issues to adopt complex E2EE tools for long-term use. We surveyed regional activists, as surveillance of social movements is well-documented. Our study group includes individuals from 9 social movementmore »groups in the US who had elected to participate in a workshop on using Thunder-bird+Enigmail for email encryption. These workshops tool place prior to mid-2017, via a partnership with a non-profit which supports social movement groups. Six to 40 months after their PGP email encryption training, more than half of the study participants were continuing to use PGP email encryption despite intervening widespread deployment of simple E2EE messaging apps such as Signal. We study the interplay of usability with social factors such as motivation and the risks that individuals undertake through their activism. We find that while usability is an important factor, it is not enough to explain long term use. For example, we find that riskiness of one’s activism is negatively correlated with long-term PGP use. This study represents the first long-term study, and the first in-the-wild study, of PGP email encryption adoption.« less
  5. Abstract Expert testimony varies in scientific quality and jurors have a difficult time evaluating evidence quality (McAuliff et al., 2009). In the current study, we apply Fuzzy Trace Theory principles, examining whether visual and gist aids help jurors calibrate to the strength of scientific evidence. Additionally we were interested in the role of jurors’ individual differences in scientific reasoning skills in their understanding of case evidence. Contrary to our preregistered hypotheses, there was no effect of evidence condition or gist aid on evidence understanding. However, individual differences between jurors’ numeracy skills predicted evidence understanding. Summary Poor-quality expert evidence is sometimesmore »admitted into court (Smithburn, 2004). Jurors’ calibration to evidence strength varies widely and is not robustly understood. For instance, previous research has established jurors lack understanding of the role of control groups, confounds, and sample sizes in scientific research (McAuliff, Kovera, & Nunez, 2009; Mill, Gray, & Mandel, 1994). Still others have found that jurors can distinguish weak from strong evidence when the evidence is presented alone, yet not when simultaneously presented with case details (Smith, Bull, & Holliday, 2011). This research highlights the need to present evidence to jurors in a way they can understand. Fuzzy Trace Theory purports that people encode information in exact, verbatim representations and through “gist” representations, which represent summary of meaning (Reyna & Brainerd, 1995). It is possible that the presenting complex scientific evidence to people with verbatim content or appealing to the gist, or bottom-line meaning of the information may influence juror understanding of that evidence. Application of Fuzzy Trace Theory in the medical field has shown that gist representations are beneficial for helping laypeople better understand risk and benefits of medical treatment (Brust-Renck, Reyna, Wilhelms, & Lazar, 2016). Yet, little research has applied Fuzzy Trace Theory to information comprehension and application within the context of a jury (c.f. Reyna et. al., 2015). Additionally, it is likely that jurors’ individual characteristics, such as scientific reasoning abilities and cognitive tendencies, influence their ability to understand and apply complex scientific information (Coutinho, 2006). Methods The purpose of this study was to examine how jurors calibrate to the strength of scientific information, and whether individual difference variables and gist aids inspired by Fuzzy Trace Theory help jurors better understand complicated science of differing quality. We used a 2 (quality of scientific evidence: high vs. low) x 2 (decision aid to improve calibration - gist information vs. no gist information), between-subjects design. All hypotheses were preregistered on the Open Science Framework. Jury-eligible community participants (430 jurors across 90 juries; Mage = 37.58, SD = 16.17, 58% female, 56.93% White). Each jury was randomly assigned to one of the four possible conditions. Participants were asked to individually fill out measures related to their scientific reasoning skills prior to watching a mock jury trial. The trial was about an armed bank robbery and consisted of various pieces of testimony and evidence (e.g. an eyewitness testimony, police lineup identification, and a sweatshirt found with the stolen bank money). The key piece of evidence was mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) evidence collected from hair on a sweatshirt (materials from Hans et al., 2011). Two experts presented opposing opinions about the scientific evidence related to the mtDNA match estimate for the defendant’s identification. The quality and content of this mtDNA evidence differed based on the two conditions. The high quality evidence condition used a larger database than the low quality evidence to compare to the mtDNA sample and could exclude a larger percentage of people. In the decision aid condition, experts in the gist information group presented gist aid inspired visuals and examples to help explain the proportion of people that could not be excluded as a match. Those in the no gist information group were not given any aid to help them understand the mtDNA evidence presented. After viewing the trial, participants filled out a questionnaire on how well they understood the mtDNA evidence and their overall judgments of the case (e.g. verdict, witness credibility, scientific evidence strength). They filled this questionnaire out again after a 45-minute deliberation. Measures We measured Attitudes Toward Science (ATS) with indices of scientific promise and scientific reservations (Hans et al., 2011; originally developed by National Science Board, 2004; 2006). We used Drummond and Fischhoff’s (2015) Scientific Reasoning Scale (SRS) to measure scientific reasoning skills. Weller et al.’s (2012) Numeracy Scale (WNS) measured proficiency in reasoning with quantitative information. The NFC-Short Form (Cacioppo et al., 1984) measured need for cognition. We developed a 20-item multiple-choice comprehension test for the mtDNA scientific information in the cases (modeled on Hans et al., 2011, and McAuliff et al., 2009). Participants were shown 20 statements related to DNA evidence and asked whether these statements were True or False. The test was then scored out of 20 points. Results For this project, we measured calibration to the scientific evidence in a few different ways. We are building a full model with these various operationalizations to be presented at APLS, but focus only on one of the calibration DVs (i.e., objective understanding of the mtDNA evidence) in the current proposal. We conducted a general linear model with total score on the mtDNA understanding measure as the DV and quality of scientific evidence condition, decision aid condition, and the four individual difference measures (i.e., NFC, ATS, WNS, and SRS) as predictors. Contrary to our main hypotheses, neither evidence quality nor decision aid condition affected juror understanding. However, the individual difference variables did: we found significant main effects for Scientific Reasoning Skills, F(1, 427) = 16.03, p <.001, np2 = .04, Weller Numeracy Scale, F(1, 427) = 15.19, p <.001, np2 = .03, and Need for Cognition, F(1, 427) = 16.80, p <.001, np2 = .04, such that those who scored higher on these measures displayed better understanding of the scientific evidence. In addition there was a significant interaction of evidence quality condition and scores on the Weller’s Numeracy Scale, F(1, 427) = 4.10, p = .04, np2 = .01. Further results will be discussed. Discussion These data suggest jurors are not sensitive to differences in the quality of scientific mtDNA evidence, and also that our attempt at helping sensitize them with Fuzzy Trace Theory-inspired aids did not improve calibration. Individual scientific reasoning abilities and general cognition styles were better predictors of understanding this scientific information. These results suggest a need for further exploration of approaches to help jurors differentiate between high and low quality evidence. Note: The 3rd author was supported by an AP-LS AP Award for her role in this research. Learning Objective: Participants will be able to describe how individual differences in scientific reasoning skills help jurors understand complex scientific evidence.« less