Readable v. Ridiculous: Privacy Policies

Aug 12, 2015 6:03:45 PM

All too often, privacy policies and other online terms are thick, dense, and hard to understand for an average consumer. As consumers have grown more conscious of what they’re signing -- or clicking -- away, there’s been pressure on companies to make these terms more easy-to-digest.

TIME recently teamed up with this really cool non-profit called the Center for Plain Language to rank privacy policies. The subjective “spirit” of their policies was also examined asking questions like, “Does the policy, for instance, make it easy for people to limit the ways in which the company collects their personal information? Are instructions about opting out obscured in the policy’s hinterlands with no hyperlinks?”

Companies were ranked on a scale of “readable to ridiculous.” And our team at PactSafe is loving every second of it. Since, you know, we’re all about anything regarding good online legal agreements here.

The backstory:

In 2010, there was a law designed called the Plain Writing Act to eliminate written bureaucratic BS that no one can understand. AKA: writing should be in comprehensible English, so that we the people can follow along at home. That’s what the Center for Plain Language does--they help businesses keep their public documents simple, and rip on those who don’t.  

What’s happening now:

At this point, the birth of technology has made most users throw caution to the wind when it comes to sharing their personal information. While I am loving hanging out in the trust tree with everyone, it is still good for users to at least be conscious about what happens when information is shared.

So, PactSafe has already expressed that we think some companies’ privacy policies are really good, and some are really bad.

The good news: We haven’t been selling you short. TIME and the Center agree with us!

The bad news: The one’s that stink, still have allllll of your information. Bummer, I know.

BUT, this article is going to bring you up to speed on privacy policies as we break down which sites are doing it right, and which ones need to team up with Ice Cube and check themselves before they wreck themselves.

Let’s go.

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1. Google

  • Clear, plain language approach
  • Audience-focus approach of privacy policy earns users’ trust
  • Easy scanning and navigation with lists of sections in the left panel
  • Encourages readers and shows respect: “This is important; we hope you will take time to read it carefully.”

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2. Facebook

  • Stays true to brand by looking like a Facebook page
  • Uses graphics and pictures, but could use more
  • Includes "What kinds of information" section detailing how customer interactions are collected and stored
  • Provides notification of privacy changes and an opportunity for users to review and comment before continuing their services

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3. LinkedIn

  • Suggests desire to communicate clearly, but does not remain consistent throughout document
  • Lists summaries on the left side of the screen, but does not indicate that they are summaries; makes it a little difficult for readers to spell out
  • Worked to avoid legalese by using a friendly tone
  • Needs to combine tone and general desire to communicate clearly with shorter paragraphs to increase usefulness of document

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4. Apple

  • Generally disappointing
  • Absence of visuals
  • Document seems credible, but genuinity of informaing audience is lacking
  • Hides path for adjusting how users share information
  • Tone wobbles between conversational and legalese
  • Important privacy concerns are buried

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5. Uber

  • Inconsistent writing (at best)
  • Tells you "your choices" as a user, but creates zero navigation to get to those choices
  • Makes it really difficult to exercise privacy choices
  • Sentences are impossible to scan due to length

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6. Twitter

  • Lacks easy understanding component for audience to truly gather what their privacy policy entails
  • No design layout to make more readable either
  • Black and white wall of really long, hard-to-read sentences
  • Dense paragraphs, lack of bullets, and hidden calls to action

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7. Lyft

  • Disrespect for the customer and distracting writing style
  • Classic legalese
  • They don't notify users when they make changes
  • From one of the privacy policy judges themselves: "I feel less inclined to ever use Lyft because this notice makes me believe they do not care about transparency or their users' right to understand what the company is doing with their informaion."

 

Transparency of all legal documents within your company is crucial when it comes to fulfilling customer expectations. If your customers don’t trust you, then you have lost their business, and probably all of their friends’ business as well.

Even more importantly, your company’s integrity and credibility can be compromised in a court of law if your agreements are not enforceable. Someone will go there. They always do.

When considering your own documents, do you plead readable or ridiculous?

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Want to dig deeper? Read the entire Center for Plain Language Privacy-Policy Analysis.

  Center for Plain Language Privacy Policy Analysis by KatySteinmetzTIME


Amber Ferrari

Written by Amber Ferrari