User Choices and Regret: Understanding Users’ Decision Process About Consensually Acquired Spyware

Privacy and Security

Article Snapshot

Author(s)

Nathaniel Good, Jens Grossklags, Joseph A. Konstan, Deirdre Mulligan, Aaron Perzanowski and David Thaw

Source

I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society, 2006

Summary

This paper looks at when and why consumers install spyware.

Policy Relevance

Adding short, easy to read notices to software licenses helps consumers avoid spyware. Other changes to the interface would help.

Main Points

  • Spyware is software that is stored on a consumer’s computer, collects information about the consumer, and/or displays advertising to the consumer. 

  • Often, consumers install spyware to gain a benefit such as the use of the Google toolbar or a music sharing program like KaZaA, but sometimes they are not aware of what the software does if the end user license agreement (EULA) discloses it honestly.

  • Consumers trying to complete a task rarely read EULAs. EULAs tend to be long and confusing, so they do not convey information very well. Many EULAs require one to “opt-out” to avoid information sharing.

  • Over twenty states and Congress have considered passing new laws about spyware. Europe’s data collection rules affect spyware. Just banning spyware does not make sense, because users sometimes benefit from sharing some data online to shop or obtain personalized services or other benefits.

  • Most tools and technologies that help consumers combat spyware cannot catch all spyware, and do not effectively help assess security or privacy risks.

  • Our study shows that showing an easy to read summary or a generic warning before the EULA reduced chances that consumers will regret installing a program by 15%.  
    • Consumers were particularly likely to regret installing programs like eDonkey, which displays pop-up ads.
    • Google’s toolbar was the most trusted application; most users chose to keep it.

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