22 Jan 2008

Fixing broken doors

OK, be honest. When was the last time you read the full text of a website’s privacy policy?

Did you scan it, looking for keywords that might give you an inkling of what the site’s owners will or won’t do with your personal information?

Or did you just scroll to the bottom and then click “I Accept”?

Privacy policies tend not to be compelling reads – they’re often dense blocks of text chock-full of legal language laid out in 9-point font.

And let’s face it – if we’re not reading them, can we expect our kids to read them?

Val Steeves from the University of Ottawa and Jacquelyn Burkell and Anca Micheti from the University of Western Ontario studied best practices in readability and document comprehension, then listened to children and teens to understand their experiences and common practices in understanding privacy policies they encountered online:

“[Kids] indicated that they are uncomfortable with the pervasiveness of online surveillance, but feel disempowered to do anything about it. As one 17 year old girl put it, there are doors on the Internet, but ‘the doors are broken’. These ‘broken doors’ leave them open to constant and pervasive monitoring and they know it.”

The result of their research project is a set of guidelines for the drafting of privacy policies that kids would actually read and understand. Their guidelines provide advice on word choice and phrasing (avoid double negatives; keep sentences simple and paragraphs short); information structure (arrange information in a logical order; start paragraphs with topic sentences); and design consideration (use 12-14 font size and typefaces designed for the web or preferred by kids; leave enough white space).

Implementing the recommendations made by Steeves, Burkell and Micheti would be a huge improvement over the vast majority of privacy policies already out there – for kids and adults alike.

4 Responses

Ottawone Says:

Your post prompted me to read your site’s privacy policy for the first time. I have to admit that I don’t read many of them but I would be more likely to if they followed the structure and rules you provide.

Daphne Guerrero Says:

Thanks for your comment. While our own privacy notice certainly isn’t among the worst out there, there’s definitely room for improvement. It’s something we are considering as we look at redesigning our website to make it more user-friendly.

a.erol Says:

i think reading rules is not a solution to billions of internet audience! internet has a set of rules everyone accepts. Rule 1: No one reads Privacy Policy. So they are void! So when do they become valid? They become valid and applicable in subscription sites! Rule 1 applies if u dont subscribe to a website!

Milan Says:

One useful model could be Creative Commons licenses. They have two versions: a straightforward and comprehensible one that explains what the license means and what it empowers all parties to do, and the full legal version which can be accessed if needed.

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