Privacy policies made palatable (or at least digestible)!

By Anne Collier

No way anybody’s going to abandon privacy policies anytime soon – not with the FTC’s and others’ calls for ever greater disclosure of mobile and Web services’ privacy practices (e.g., see this). But no one reads them – even if they could get through all the legal verbiage without nodding off. Knowing this, Mozilla, the people who brought you the Firefox Web browser, and some privacy advocates decided to conduct an experiment, the New York Times reports. In an effort to make sites’ privacy disclosures actually useful to users, they’re vetting 1,000 Web sites’ privacy policies and assigning to them little icons that tell users – at a glance – what the sites are doing with their data.

“If a Web site’s privacy policy suggested that it might sell users’ personal information to third parties,” it got an icon with “an orange circle with a dollar sign in the middle and an orange arrow pointing up, suggesting caution; if it promised not to sell personal information, it got a green circle.” So we users see that lots of green in a site’s icons is good for user privacy, orange not so much – a lot better than a lot of legalese. Here‘s the site with all the icons and their explanations. There are zillions of Web sites, so it’ll take time, but – if this great idea really takes off – eventually you’ll know that no icons associated with a site suggests extreme caution. And that will lead to corporate social norms development (and more transparency around corporate responsibility) which will lead to more and more pro-social media companies (see this about those) – by making the distinction between pro- and anti-social media companies clearer so that users will flock to the pro-social ones’ products and services.

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