Many of us interact with technology on a daily basis. We use websites and mobile apps to digest dense streams of information and gain insight into our lives, our friends’ lives, and our community. Unfortunately, very little has been done to clarify the privacy policies we consent to when we use these services. That may be about to change, though, as new developments are underway to help distill privacy disclosures in a visually appealing, easily understandable way.
Before we take a look at these innovations in privacy notifications, it’s worth keeping in mind a simple privacy practice we can all incorporate into our lives. This practice empowers us to SEE clearly before we share information online.
SEE: Stop. Evaluate. Enter.
Focus your awareness on the choice you’re being asked to make about sharing your personal information. What is your emotional state at the moment? Are you multitasking, feeling anxious, stressed or numb, or are you feeling focused and grounded?
Make a conscious choice. If you feel comfortable with the service and how your information will be used and shared, enter your personal information.
Evaluation is the challenge
The evaluation step presents the challenge in our privacy practice. We know privacy policies contain important information, but we either don’t take the time to read privacy policies or if we do read them, we don’t fully understand their implications. Privacy policies are notoriously text-heavy, lengthy, and contain legalese that may not make sense to all consumers.
Where does that leave us? In a state of disinterest or utter confusion?
Disconnect and TRUSTe’s Privacy Icons Project
Disconnect, a developer of consumer privacy software, and TRUSTe, a data privacy management company, recently launched Privacy Icons, software which helps people understand privacy policies.
Privacy Icons translates these often complicated privacy policies into terms ordinary people can understand. The icons reference how data is collected, shared, and protected by the websites users visit and the services they use.
Red = Yes, without choice to opt-out. Or, undisclosed.
Yellow = Yes, with choice to opt-out.
Green = No.
Gray = Info unavailable.
The visual icons are meant to enhance transparency and user control. Users can customize the icons, see the icons in their online search results, and learn about the websites they visit and those sites’ data privacy practices.
In March 2014, Lookout, a cybersecurity provider, launched Private Parts, an open-sourced, customizable toolkit to help developers implement visual, user-friendly privacy policies. The tool is meant to “transform privacy policies into a clear, simple design that uses visual cues to allow users to understand how an app collects and shares their data.”
These projects are all moves in the right direction towards enhancing transparency and consumer choice. Responsible companies should embrace shining a light on their privacy practices and be mindful of how their policies are drafted and presented to consumers.