Access Denied! Contrasting Data Access in the United States and Ireland

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The ability of an Internet user to access data collected about himself as a result of his online activity is a key privacy safeguard. Online, data access has been overshadowed by other protections such as notice and choice. This paper describes attitudes about data access. 873 US and Irish Internet users participated in a survey designed to examine views on data access to information held by online companies and data brokers. We observed low levels of awareness of access mechanisms along with a high desire for access in both participant groups. We tested three proposed access systems in keeping with industry programs and regulatory proposals. User response was positive. We conclude that access remains an important privacy protection that is inadequately manifested in practice. Our study provides insight for lawmakers and policymakers, as well as computer scientists who implement these systems.

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