Can We Just Admit That The Idea Of A 'Privacy Policy' Is A Failed Idea?

from the no-one-reads-it,-it's-meaningless dept

At our Insight Dinner Salon on Privacy the other night, I got into a conversation about privacy policies, and how silly the concept has become. At this point, it's commonly accepted that very, very few people ever read a privacy policy. Furthermore, there's this bizarre belief that a privacy policy actually means a company will respect your privacy. Studies have shown that people will say that if a site has a privacy policy, it means that the site will protect their data, even if the policy makes it clear that the site operator can spread your data far and wide. In fact, the incentives are to write a "privacy policy you can't violate," by having it state you can do whatever the hell you want with the data you collect. It's the "best of all worlds," in which users think (incorrectly) they're protected, because a "privacy policy" exists... and the companies who use them can't get in trouble because it says the company can do whatever they want.

So forgive me for not being at all impressed with the Future of Privacy Forum complaining that so many mobile apps have no privacy policy. And things like the following statement don't do the FPF many favors:
FPF believes that a fundamental element of protecting the privacy of consumers using Apps is the availability of a readily-accessible, written privacy policy.
Honestly, this feels like the requirement for a talisman, rather than a deeper look at the actual privacy issues (of which there are many) in the world today. Calling for more privacy policies doesn't really do anything to keep people's data more private. It's just something that can be done in the belief that it must help, even if there's scant evidence to support it.

Filed Under: privacy, privacy policies


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  1. icon
    Griff (profile), 26 May 2011 @ 2:33pm

    My new credit card company

    My card company of > 10yrs was bought by a large bank.
    Hmm. Wonder what terms they'll change to get their £billion stake back.

    The new privacy policy was online as a PDF so I read it.

    There were three sections in effect
    - the ways we collect your data relating to you
    - the uses it can be put to
    - the groups of people we can share it with

    And if you take the worst from each category and make a sentence it would read something like

    We gather tons of data including every transaction you ever make and your IP address whenever you connect to our site,
    and we use this for any purpose that in our view helps our business, and we may share it with absolutely anyone it suits us to share it with.

    As an exercise I tried to copy the worst bits, stitch them together with a few "..." between and paste into an email back to their customer service dept and ask them to clarify.

    But the PDF of their terms is not possible to copy from. I tried it lots of ways. In the end I thought maybe I'd print it to another PDF then copy from that. But CutePDF couldn't print it (weird error).

    When they put that much effort into stopping you quoting their privacy policy in an email, it HAS to be time to move on !

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