While many websites offer users choices to opt out of some of their data collection and use practices, most of these choices are buried deep in the text of long, jargon-filled privacy policies and are never seen by users. But now consumers can easily identify opportunities to opt out of sharing personal data through the first-of-its-kind “Opt-Out Easy” browser plug-in developed by researchers from Carnegie Mellon’s CyLab Security and Privacy Institute. The plug-in makes opt-out choices more accessible to users, automatically extracting privacy information from websites’ policies and presenting it in a user-friendly way. 

By clicking on the plugin’s icon, users are presented with opt-out links found in the privacy policy of the website they are currently visiting, allowing them to, for example, opt out of analytics or limit marketing emails. The extension is now available for free download. 

“Different privacy regulations grant users the right to revoke how their data can be used by companies. But as it stands, most websites don’t offer users easy and practical access to these choices, effectively depriving them of these rights. We believe this extension is an important first step towards empowering web users to regain control of their privacy online,” said lead investigator Norman Sadeh, a CyLab researcher and professor in Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science.  

The browser was developed as part of the larger Usable Privacy Project. In the study, which was presented at the 2020 Web Conference, researchers used machine learning techniques to automatically extract and classify opt-out choices; they trained a machine learning algorithm to scan privacy policies and identify language and links related to opt-out choices.  

More information is available on CyLab’s website