Privacy Preference Signals


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2022-07-04

Privacy Preference Signals

Today, we are joined by Maximilian (Max) Hils, a PhD student at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Max’s research focuses on tracking website cookie dialogues. He joins us to discuss the efforts of regulatory standards in the ad tech industry.

Max started by explaining how data tracking through cookies has progressed from binary options (track or do not track) to more complex signals (cookies now allowing you to customize your preferences). He threw some light on what goes on between the browser and a website owner when a user selects a cookie option. He revealed that privacy preference signals such as consent cookies are “soft privacy” technologies — users ultimately need to trust the websites to truly respect their decision.

Max then explained the usefulness of cookies for businesses and how companies can exploit them to better understand their audience. However, data protection is important to curb excesses. There is a need for standards to be put in place to regulate the activities of ad tech. Max mentioned the ad tech standards that have been used over the years. They include The Platform for Privacy Preferences Project (P3P), Do Not Track (DNT), Transparency & Consent Framework (TCF), and the Global Privacy Control (GPC) standard. 

The GPC has particularly been more successful in the US because of its strong legal backing. Max discussed some of the repercussions of flouting such standards, especially for huge corporations.

Max shifted gears to the crux of his work - aiming to quantify the percentage of websites using a cookie dialogue provider and the type of cookie dialogue provider they use. He measured how the cookie events complied with regulatory standards and the specific standards that wholesomely protect the user’s interest. He, however, pointed out the regional problem with these standards.

Max discussed whether it is possible for a user to see if the website is truly compliant with their cookie settings. He also spoke about the efforts Google is taking to change how tracking works on the web. Max also revealed the truth about data tracking when using a VPN. He mentioned some tools user’s can use to protect their data on the web.  

He rounded up by sharing his thoughts on what the ad tech space should look like ideally. You can follow Max on Twitter @maximilianhils. You can also check out mitmproxy if you want to learn more about what your device sends out when you surf the internet.

Maximilian (Max) Hils, a PhD student at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Max’s research focuses on tracking website cookie dialogues.


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