If you do a survey, large majorities of average people will say they don’t like the idea of other people snooping on what they do online.   Yet, the existing bolt-on software that can prevent such snooping (at least somewhat) doesn’t get used by nearly as many people. The default explanation for this is that it’s because the software is hard to install and use correctly.  
This paper presents a complementary answer: maybe people don’t realize just how ubiquitous or invasive online snooping is, so the benefit seems not worth the hassle. The authors interviewed a small group about their beliefs concerning
identification and tracking. (They admit that the study group skews young and technical, and plan to broaden the study in the future.) Highlights include: People are primarily concerned about data they explicitly provide to some service—social network posts, bank account data, buying habits—and may not even be aware that ad networks and the like can build up comprehensive profiles of online activity even if all they do is
browse. They often have heard a bunch of fragmentary information about
IP addresses and so on, and don’t know how this all fits together or which bits of it to worry about. Some people thought that tracking was only possible for services with which they have an account, while they are logged in (so they log out as soon as they’re done with the service). There is also general confusion about which security threats qualify as
identification and tracking—to be fair, just about all of them can include some identification or tracking component. The consequences of being tracked online are unclear, leading people to underestimate the potential harm. And finally, many of the respondents assume they are not important people and therefore no one would bother tracking them. All of these observations are consistent with earlier studies in the same vein, e.g. Rick Wash’s
Folk Models of Home Computer Security.
The authors argue that this means maybe the usability problems of the bolt-on privacy software are overstated, and user education about online security threats (and the mechanism of the Internet in general) should have higher priority. I think this goes too far. It seems more likely to me that because people underestimate the risk and don’t particularly understand how the privacy software would help, they are not motivated to overcome the usability problems. I am also skeptical of the effectiveness of user education. The mythical average users may well feel, and understandably so, that they should not need to know exactly what a cookie is, or exactly what data gets sent back and forth between their computers and the
cloud, or the internal structure of that
cloud. Why is it that the device that they own is not acting in their best interest in the first place?