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Website privacy policies don’t say much about how they share your data

Web traffic analysis suggests most information is passed onto unnamed partners

By
7:00am, April 27, 2018
browser privacy screen

DATA DISPERSION The idea that users can find out who tracks their browsing behavior just by reading website privacy policies “is pure fiction,” says privacy researcher Timothy Libert.

If you want to know how a website shares your personal data, you might be tempted to slog through its online privacy policy. Be prepared for disappointment. Website privacy policies explicitly disclose only a fraction of sites’ data-sharing practices, according to new research that casts doubt on whether users can make informed decisions about their online activity.

The research, presented April 25 at the Web Conference in Lyon, France, investigated the data-sharing disclosures of more than 200,000 websites — the Arkansas state government homepage, for instance, and the Country Music Association site. In specific, it looked at how these sites shared data with third parties, such as advertisers and data brokers, as well as how those sites described their privacy policies.

For this analysis, privacy researcher Timothy Libert used a software tool called webXray to trace data transmissions from each

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