Online privacy policies need work, advocates say

Online privacy policies need to be easier to understand and more conspicuous because few people now actually read them, said panelists at a U.S. Federal Trade Commission workshop on targeted online advertising.
While privacy policies can help users understand what personal information is being collected, they often need “college-level reading skills” to understand them, said Lorrie Faith Cranor, a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor who’s done research on privacy policies.
Cranor suggested FTC action may be necessary to help standardize privacy notices online. “We should look at the whole picture and think, ‘Do we need nutrition labels for privacy?’” she said during the second day of an FTC workshop examining concerns about targeted online advertising.
Representatives of Microsoft, Google and Yahoo told audience members they’re working to make privacy policies easier to understand and notices about data collection more immediate.
Representatives of eBay and Yahoo said their companies are experimenting with small question-mark shaped links on targeted ads that explain why a customer was shown the ad.
Microsoft tries to provide frequent links to its privacy policy, and makes it available every time customers sign up for a service, said Peter Cullen, chief privacy strategist at Microsoft. “Now, do we make sure they have to scroll through the short-form [privacy] notice?” he said. “No, because in all honesty, our customers have said that’s overdoing it.”
But Esther Dyson, Internet policy commentator and founder of EDventure.com, called on online advertising companies to use the same “brilliance” they have for delivering targeted ads to deliver targeted privacy policies and data-collection warnings to individual Web users.
{~“Online privacy policies are often impossible to read. But if you do actually read them, they typically inform you that you have no control over your personal information the website collects. The problem is that the value of personal information is so great, that corporations steal it by burying what they are doing in the terms of use agreement on the website. Then they sell it. Americans MUST demand REAL control over all personal digital information, not just sensitive health data. We don’t need more readable policies, we need Congress to restore our rights to privacy and stop the theft of our data.” Dr.Deborah Peel, Patient Privacy Rights}

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