Marcio Avillez, CUJO AI’s SVP of Business Development, chatted to Telecoms.com about a range of topics on privacy, from third-party trackers to consumers’ concerns about social media and many things in between.
- What kind of problems do third-party trackers and covert tracking present in general? In your view, what are the most pressing privacy issues online?
Internet users around the world, billions of them, are exposed to a technology that they do not fully understand, have little or no benefit from it, haven’t asked for it whatsoever, and due to which, they have to be concerned about how their data is used. On top of this, there is a cost to users down to the consumption of their device’s resources in relation to tracking workflows.
Third-party trackers represent the problem. When someone visits a website or uses an app, they have no intention to provide anything to any third parties. They have no other business in mind, except their primary purpose, for example, to buy shoes online. Instead, by visiting a single website, they’re invisibly connected to dozens of third-fourth-fifth party entities to a degree where no one can answer who has access to what aspects of your data.
I’d say that the most pressing issue with privacy today is the lack of policy – it’s not clear who holds responsibility for preventing users from unwanted tracking or where should people turn when they think that their privacy has been compromised. Now we all understand that adverts form part of the Internet economy and targeted ads draw higher revenues and pay for better content. But when it comes to 3rd party tracking, we have to ask one key question – Is the end user making an informed consent?
- You are developing privacy protection solutions on the service provider level instead of end user solutions like ad blockers. Is there a danger in shifting responsibility to users in terms of their data?
To be responsible for something means first being able to make an impact and affect the outcome. We don’t expect a regular person to perform their own surgeries, install their plumbing or take care of legal processes. Internet users are the recipients of a service, and the attributes of that service – in this case, user privacy – remain in the field of service providers, not the consumers.
We’ve carried out survey on Privacy and Online Tracking Perceptions this spring where we asked US respondents who, in their opinion, should be responsible for protecting them from tracking. The majority – 65.1% – think that it’s the Internet service providers.
We also asked several questions about privacy threats and known countermeasures. The responses clearly show one thing – privacy protection requires a systematic approach. A lot of users are neither motivated nor qualified to ensure it for themselves. There is a lack of knowledge regarding tracking and awareness is still relatively low.
I think it’s a great risk for businesses to provide a service knowing that it has a potential to be maliciously used against their customers, and not take all possible measures in order to help avoid those threats.
- How exactly does Incognito ensure privacy protection? Is it able to address end user concerns and expectations towards privacy?
CUJO AI Incognito protects consumers’ privacy by blocking the third-party tracking software that powers advertising sites. Because it operates on the network level, it works across all devices, browsers and apps while they’re used on that network. This way Incognito frees the consumer from installing and maintaining software on their myriad of devices.
Incognito is able to address end user expectations by empowering the Internet service providers to ensure their clients don’t have to undergo the hassle of trying to protect themselves with available means that only work on browsers (so apps keep tracking them), or installing and updating the blocking software on each of their devices.
- Do you sense a change coming in terms of how the public views ‘free’ social networking and entertainment sites?
Only a minority (7.6%) of our survey respondents said they think that tracking might be beneficial to them, for example, for allowing a more personalized browsing or app experience, like prefilling repetitive forms, saving choices, etc.
What is flawed in this idea is that these convenient features are available because of functional, or essential, website trackers – it’s a part of the website functionality and user experience, but third-party trackers have nothing to do with that. Their sole purpose is to gather user behaviour data for profiling them and using those profiles to target and monetize advertisements.
But those who tend to see tracking in a not-entirely-negative light are just a small part of Internet users. The majority thinks that tracking is never beneficial, and I would say they’re right.
However, social networking and entertainment sites users have no alternatives to choose from, it’s either use and be tracked, or don’t use at all. That’s why it’s essential to at least minimize the impact of tracking that they’re exposed to when using the ‘free’ services that have already become a daily habit.