How to Read a Privacy Policy

Like most people, you probably don’t make it a habit of reading privacy agreements before using free online services. A non-profit group in New York released a report called the Common Data Project, which compared the privacy policies of 10 major web sites: Google, Yahoo!, Wikipedia, Microsoft, AOL, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Craigslist, Photobucket, NYT, WebMD, Ask, Cuil, and Ixquick.

The discussion of the results were pretty interesting. For example, the report states that:

“Companies rarely vouch for what these third party advertisers are doing. Some companies, such as AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Amazon, and the New York Times Digital, will at least explicitly acknowledge there are third parties that use cookies on their sites with their own policies around data collection…. Google, in contrast, doesn’t mention third party advertisers on the “privacy policy,” alluding to the separate controls for opting out of their tracking on a separate page discussing advertising and privacy.”

“… Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft have yet to vividly demonstrate why collecting and retaining data makes their services better. Perhaps if they did, they would be less hard-pressed to delete their data as soon as possible.”

“In some ways, consumers are starting to already feel that they’ve gotten a bad deal. Even though most only feel a vague discomfort at this point, it’s unlikely that companies like RealAge will be able to continue what they’ve been doing. RealAge promoted itself as a simple online quiz to help people be healthier, with endorsements by famous doctors, with only limited disclosure of the fact that their profits were based on selling quiz-takers’ information to pharmaceutical companies.”

These were the seven topics that were compared (these are questions to look out for when you read policies):
1. What data collection is happening that is not covered by the privacy policy?
2. How do they define “personal information”?
3. What promises are being made about sharing information with third parties?
4. What is their data retention policy and what does it say about their commitment to privacy?
5. What privacy choices do they offer to the user?
6. What input do users have into changes to the policy’s terms?
7. To what extent does they share the data they collect with users and the public?

This report even visually compared the amount of the content, of which Web MD, Amazon, and ASK contain the most content:

Web Sites and Content within Privacy Agreements

Web Sites and Content within Privacy Agreements

Go to the news release, or view the original report.


About repplinger

John has served as a Reference Librarian at Willamette University since 2002. He is the liaison to the Science Departments, and is responsible for maintaining the collections related to the life & physical sciences. His research interests range over the entire spectrum of libraries and information sciences, but includes: - Google and its influence on information & society - The Internet's influence on information seeking & sharing behaviors - Trends of scholarly communication - Electronic learning environments - Traditional pedagogy - GIS use in academic libraries

Posted on July 30, 2009, in Google, Microsoft, Privacy, Social Networks and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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