Institute for Software Research
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Why People are (Un)willing to Share
Information with Online Advertisers

Pedro Giovanni Leon, Ashwini Rao, Florian Schaub
Abigail Marsh, Lorrie Faith Cranor, Norman Sadeh

May 2015


Keywords: Privacy, User Preferences, Online Behavioral Advertising, OBA, Tracking, Data Retention, Do Not Track

Online advertisers track Internet users' activities to deliver relevant ads. To study how different online advertisers' data practices affect users' comfort with sharing their information, we conducted a between-subjects online study with 1,882 participants. We asked participants about their comfort with sharing commonly collected types of information in scenarios with varying data practices, and studied their reactions to a realistic example of a behavioral profile created by advertisers about users. We found that participants' willingness to share information with online advertisers is not only based on the sensitivity of the information, but also on the scope of collection and use, perceived necessity of collection, and perceived benefits or harms of disclosing specific data types. Qualitative data analysis revealed nuanced and contextualized reasons behind stated information-sharing preferences. Participants were particularly adverse to sharing information that they perceived as irrelevant for advertising. However, our results also reveal that–under the right circumstances–participants may be willing to share their data with advertisers to enhance the utility of shown ads.

27 pages

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