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26 August 2022

"I feel invaded, annoyed, anxious" - internet users' tracking experience and protective actions: A Privacy Gender Gap

How internet users feel about tracking


Research led by Dr Kovila P.L Coopamootoo, Lecturer in Computer Science in the Department of Informatics, in collaboration with colleagues from Newcastle and Durham, has examined how internet users feel about online tracking and how their feelings affect their online behaviour.

The paper, presented at the prestigious 31st USENIX Security Symposium in Boston, USA, surveyed participants in France, Germany and the UK, the three European countries with the greatest number of internet users.

Although previous research suggested that internet users often do not have an accurate understanding of online tracking or of online privacy and security in general, this work shows that users’ subjective experiences and their feelings about privacy impact the protective actions they take when using the web.

Most participants (71.8%) reported feeling negatively about online tracking, across nuances of feeling tones. 17.8% described feeling that tracking invades their online privacy, expressing a deep sense of violation, extending beyond the information sphere. Other emotional responses included annoyance (12.5%) anxiety (12.4%), discomfort (9.1%) and distrust (3.9%).

The research found that where users express strong reactions, such a sense of personal violation, annoyance and anxiety they are more likely to take steps, such as engaging with tracking protection (privacy technologies). The research also evidenced a privacy gender gap, where women were more likely than men to feel their privacy is invaded by online tracking and targeted advertising but less likely to take action to improve their online privacy.

Commenting on the research, Kovila said:

Our paper examines individuals’ experience of tracking and protection practices online. It is important in building trust in online platforms for companies, regulators and researchers to understand how reactions are shaped across particular user groups and how they can best be channelled into effective protective action, thereby contributing to equitable participation in the digital society.”

Human-centred privacy and security is a major theme in King’s research into cybersecurity. The Cybersecurity (CYS) group studies the socio-technical problem of privacy and cyber security across diverse user communities, including those at the margins, to tackle problems that are important to industry, society and everyone living in a technologically dependent world.

In this story

Kovila Coopamootoo

Lecturer in Computer Science