ASIS&T 2013 Annual Meeting 
Montral, Qubec, Canada | November 1-5, 2013

Privacy Policy Disclosures of Behavioural Tracking on Consumer Health Websites

Jacquelyn Burkell, University of Western Ontario
Alexandre Fortier, University of Western Ontario

Monday, 3:30pm


This paper explores whether and how the collection of non-personally identifiable information is disclosed in the privacy policies of consumer health websites, recommended by information professionals, that engage in behavioural tracking. This forms part of a larger project that undertakes an inquiry into the behavioural tracking practices of health websites that consumers are likely to encounter. The websites selected all engage in first and third party behavioural tracking using cookies and web beacons, and are among the sites recommended by consumer health sections of the Medical Library Association or the Canadian Health Libraries Association.

In this analysis, we focus on two questions:

1) Are users of these websites informed of the collection of NPII, and in particular, of the specific information that is being collected?

2) Are users of these websites informed of the technologies, present on these websites, that are being used to collect this information?

Our analysis reveals that while the majority of these sites disclose both first party (6/7) and third party (5/7) behavioural tracking. The effectiveness of this disclosure, however, is limited by the use of complex language and linguistics strategies (e.g. qualitative adjectives that emphasize or de-emphasize specific qualities; temporal adverbs that downplay frequency; conditional verbs that introduce uncertainty; nominalizations and the passive voice that obscure agency) that tend to minimize behavioural tracking and obfuscate agency in the tracking process. These results suggest that library and information science professionals should carefully monitor the behavioural tracking practices of the websites they recommend to consumers, and they should also work with consumers to develop strategies to interpret the disclosures provided in website privacy policies.