Nobody reads privacy policies – here’s how to fix that

 at the Conversation: “…The key to turning privacy notices into something useful for consumers is to rethink their purpose. A company’s policy might show compliance with the regulations the firm is bound to follow, but remains impenetrable to a regular reader.

The starting point for developing consumer-friendly privacy notices is to make them relevant to the user’s activity, understandable and actionable. As part of the Usable Privacy Policy Project, my colleagues and I developed a way to make privacy notices more effective.

The first principle is to break up the documents into smaller chunks and deliver them at times that are appropriate for users. Right now, a single multi-page policy might have many sections and paragraphs, each relevant to different services and activities. Yet people who are just casually browsing a website need only a little bit of information about how the site handles their IP addresses, if what they look at is shared with advertisers and if they can opt out of interest-based ads. Those people doesn’t need to know about many other things listed in all-encompassing policies, like the rules associated with subscribing to the site’s email newsletter, nor how the site handles personal or financial information belonging to people who make purchases or donations on the site.

When a person does decide to sign up for email updates or pay for a service through the site, then an additional short privacy notice could tell her the additional information she needs to know. These shorter documents should also offer users meaningful choices about what they want a company to do – or not do – with their data. For instance, a new subscriber might be allowed to choose whether the company can share his email address or other contact information with outside marketing companies by clicking a check box.

Understanding users’ expectations

Notices can be made even simpler if they focus particularly on unexpected or surprising types of data collection or sharing. For instance, in another study, we learned that most people know their fitness tracker counts steps – so they didn’t really need a privacy notice to tell them that. But they did not expect their data to be collectedaggregated and shared with third parties. Customers should be asked for permission to do this, and allowed to restrict sharing or opt out entirely.

Most importantly, companies should test new privacy notices with users, to ensure final versions are understandable and not misleading, and that offered choices are meaningful….(More)”