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Privacy Policies Are Great — For PhDs 161

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the they-have-many-advanced-degrees dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Major Internet companies say that they inform their customers about privacy issues through specially written policies. What they don't say is that more often than not consumers would need college undergraduate educations or higher to easily wade through the verbiage. BNET looked at 20-some-odd privacy policies from Internet companies that received letters from the House about privacy practices. The easiest to read policy came from Yahoo, at a roughly 12th grade level. Most difficult? Insight Communications, which at a level of over 20 years of eduction officially puts it onto IRS Code territory."
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Privacy Policies Are Great — For PhDs

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @08:52AM (#24872285) Journal
    Well--and this is all from the prospective of a geography ignorant non-lawyer American--the fact is that most policies are in place to avoid confusion. Ah, who am I kidding, they're there so nobody sues the hell out of anyone else. And a policy is there to stop the worst kind of lawsuits: class action. I'm sure you would notice this if you did the same analysis of other policies--like healthcare, dental or auto insurance policies. Yes, your health and your automobile might seem more important than your privacy but the United States Justice system (is supposed to--like in the NYTimes article) stop companies from swindling any of those.

    And there's not a lot you can do about this, we're going to want to sue the pants off a bastard company if suddenly our name and address is being traded on a disc with 50,000 others on the black market. So they write these policies to be air tight and they use terms that have legal connotations because I'm sure the only time these things are scrutinized are in court anyway. And the second you take away that level of granularity, I'm sure you see yourself as a company open up to lawsuits.
    • by houghi (78078) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @09:19AM (#24872527)

      a policy is there to stop the worst kind of lawsuits

      And that explains who the EULA is written for. It is is not written for Joe Sixpack. It is not for the user. It is to be used in lawsuits. This means it is written for the people who work with the law, lawers.

      And those are the people who write them, because they are also the people who they are intended for.

      Also often I see a lot of copy and paste. Especially on the bullshit attachments they put under an email.

      In some countries an EULA is not even legal and most of them are written for US law. Well, many countries have different laws and if you don't like that, then you should not make the software available there from your website.

      Then there is the fact that an EULA is not available in the language(s) of the country.

      Yeah, it is a bitch that you should make the EULA available for all those laws, languages and countries, so cry me a river.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I disagree slightly, while yes their should be a legalese version which is the default, the EULA is an end user license agreement, not a end user lawyer agreement.

        It is there specifically for the end user to understand his and her rights with regards to the software the user purchased. Unless software manufacturers expect us all to retain lawyers to purchase our software and products for us, the EULA should be in plain, easily readable to any high school student English (that last bit brings up other issue

        • by sconeu (64226)

          Anyone else remember the old "Borland No-Nonsense License Agreement"?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I've never understood the point of these "privacy policies".

      Regardless of their reading difficulty, they all end or contain:

      "We have the right to change everything that you are agreeing to without your consent."

      That is not a policy, that is especially not a privacy policy, its simply the individual giving up their privacy.

    • It's even more obvious than that...for the reasons you mentioned, companies have them written by their lawyers. The lawyers may have their paralegals write them, but still, whether your lawyer or a paralegal, you have a college eductation -- juris doctorates for lawyers and bachelor's degrees for paras (at least in most states).

    • by Fëanáro (130986) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @09:44AM (#24872787)

      So we need some standardisation for EULAs, just like foods must list their ingredients in some standard way.

      Analyze the available EULAs, 90% of it boils probably down to the same few terms.
      Make a list of these terms, label each with a descriptive short name, and maybe a symbol.
      Then make a regulation that companies must use those labels if they want to describe terms equivalent to those labels in their EULA.

      Every year, make a survey of EULAs to find parts that are not covered by any existing label to find wich new labels need to be added to the system.

      Discourage companies from using terms not covered by labels, for example by a tax.

      If this leads to mass lawsuits, fix the laws.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        So we need some standardisation for EULAs, just like foods must list their ingredients in some standard way. Analyze the available EULAs, 90% of it boils probably down to the same few terms.

        This is why we have the EULAyzer [brothersoft.com].

      • by Warg! The Orcs!! (957405) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:53AM (#24874851)
        But EULAs are mostly unreliable anyway. if I bought a part for my car that turned out to be unfit for purpose resulting in the destruction of my car's engine, I would be able to pursue the manufacturer for compensation. Even if the part came with a small piece of paper that had "By using this part you accept that it might not work and relinquish all legal rights" written on it. This is because national law supercedes small bits of paper with 'not my fault, honest' printed on them. Most software EULAs that have the standard "If you use this and your computer breaks then it's not our fault and you agree to not sue us and in any case you accept that the most you can sue us for is 99 cents" are likewise ineffectively illegal. In the UK at least. Products sold here, by any means, have to be fit for purpose and behave as advertised or the buyer is entitled to recompense. So if I buy a piece of software or hardware and it makes my computer fry, then EULA or no EULA my rights are protected.
        • by Fëanáro (130986)

          So one possible label to replace all these no-liabilty clauses would be:
          LBLx12: "No guarantees, except those granted by Law"
          Could even have a nice symbol: [broken wheel inside red circle]

          That is easy to understand, no eula could avoid more liability anyway, so regulate businesses to use this label in lieu of any other phrase with identical meaning.

          Companies that want to take over more liabilities could use the phrase
          LBLx13: "No guarantees, except those granted by Law, AND x1, x2, x3"

          Since no eula could poss

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by sootman (158191)

        Analyze the available EULAs, 90% of it boils probably down to the same few terms. Make a list of these terms, label each with a descriptive short name, and maybe a symbol.

        I envision a middle finger, a guy bent over, and maybe a frowny face.

        • by gnick (1211984)

          I envision a middle finger, a guy bent over, and maybe a frowny face.

          These could be combined. When I bend over and encounter somebody's finger, I assure you that I make a frowny face.

    • by HardCase (14757)

      I read Insight's privacy policy. If it really takes a PhD to understand that document, then I guess my undergrad degree must have been a lot more powerful than I thought!

      It strikes me that the results of this "study" suggest that a human sanity check of the programs that evaluated the level of education necessary to understand the documents is in order.

      • by WNight (23683)

        Understand it in a general sense, or well enough to accurately describe all clauses with a flow-chart or other different medium? When you tested yourself on comprehension, what was your error rate?

        The problem with law and contracts are that any misunderstanding can be ruinous, and they are usually written by someone trying to exploit the situation. have you looked at the IOCCC or similar obfuscated programming challenges?

        We need a legal version of these - the most abusive yet harmless seeming contract possi

        • by HardCase (14757)

          Oh, I'm pretty sure that if I was asked to present the information in a different medium, I'd be completely capable. I thought that it was quite clearly written - and I've seen some pretty obfuscated legalese before.

          My point was that using a software algorithm to determine the level of education required for comprehension of something isn't particularly useful without a set of human eyes to serve as a sanity check.

  • Word length (Score:3, Insightful)

    by name*censored* (884880) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @08:52AM (#24872289)

    The easiest to read policy came from Yahoo

    Yes, but it's 5000 words long. Who has time to read 5000 words?

    • by oldspewey (1303305) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @08:57AM (#24872333)

      Who has time to read 5000 words?

      You just need to break the task down and come up with a manageable work plan - if you tackle 5 words a day, you'll be done in less than 3 years.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Who has time to read 5000 words?

        You just need to break the task down and come up with a manageable work plan - if you tackle 5 words a day, you'll be done in less than 3 years.

        Yes, but by that time MS will have bought Yahoo and I'll have to start all over again.

    • by click2005 (921437) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @08:57AM (#24872335)

      Yeah, couldn't they just do it as 5 pictures?

      • by Zerth (26112) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @09:40AM (#24872749)

        Most privacy policies, EULAs, etc could easily be done in pictures.

        They could even do it in just 2.

        The goatse guy subtitled "You" and the other guy with the company's logo on a placard hanging off his "contract penalty"

      • by arctanx (1187415)

        If an overbearing EULA could be done with pictures, Google would have had an appendix on their Chrome comic.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by vmxeo (173325)
        That's actually an intriging idea. Since many EULAs, privacy policies, contracts, etc. contain similar legal language, imagine coming up with a standardized set of icons for each point (think of the hazard icons from Portal). So for instance, an obviously imbalanced pair of scales when a contract requires arbitration, or a shrugging stick figure for the standard "we're not responsible for anything bad that happens when using our product".

        Ok, so chances of it actually being implemented are close to nil. B
      • Re:Word length (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sm62704 (957197) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:21AM (#24873195) Journal

        Actually, in most case (although not a legal document, even an illegal legal document like a EULA) the lower the education level needed to read, the more intelligent the writer.

        For example, Isaac Asimov's books are written at roughly an eighth grade level, and his nonfiction still managed to educate intelligent, learned people. He was actually called "the great educator". Dr. Asimov held a PhD in biochemistry and taught and did research at (IIRC) Boston University. Asimov was a very intelligent man with a great imagination, and was one hell of a writer.

        OTOH I read a paper once by some dimwit PhD who used the word "enumerate" five times in a single paragraph without once using the word "count". Writing like this is intended to obfuscate rather than illuminate, and its sole purpose is usually to impress you with how intelligent the moron is.

        In a EULA the obfuscation's purpose is obviously to make you think the damned people won't use your personal information when in fact it actually says the opposite. These people are just slimy.

        The thesaurus entry for obfuscate says bewilder, blur, cloud, confuse, darken, dim, garble, hide, muddle, obscure, perplex, puzzle. None are exact synonyms, so sorry; I'm not smart enough to convey this information well.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by gnick (1211984)

          Writing like this is intended to obfuscate rather than illuminate, and its sole purpose is usually to impress you with how intelligent the moron is.

          I think you meant:
          Writing like this is intended to confuse the reader rather than communicate clearly...

          Eschew obfuscation.

          Cheers =)

          • by sm62704 (957197)

            Yes, thank you for helping me think more clearly. Your sentence was much more clear than mine!

      • by sjames (1099)

        Honestly, they only need one picture. A silhouette grabbing it's ankles with another silhouette standing behind it.

    • by Fred_A (10934)

      And the Insight policy is among the shortest at 1900 words...
      Since all of these basically say the same thing, I believe it's their compression scheme that screws up the readability.

    • Well 5000 words is a lot. For something that is getting in the way of getting something done. One can sit down and read 5000 words at their leisure rather easily. However when need to read a privacy policy it is much more stressful. Should and Shouldn't do. Reading between the lines for hidden traps, etc... Then the fact that you are under pressure to do what you want to do. Like use the service or software. So for most people they are interested using the service then reading threw a document.

      The legal s

    • by cashman73 (855518)
      Actually, I'd agree that Yahoo's privacy policy is good. I've actually modeled privacy policies for some non-profits that I work with after theirs.
  • by gardyloo (512791) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @08:54AM (#24872299)

    ... in my over-20 years of education, is that some things just aren't worth reading.

  • Privacy issue (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @08:57AM (#24872341) Journal
    This company [geni.com] is jockeying to become a social website by allowing its registered users to construct their family trees. The idea seems to be once a vast tree is created the users will be able to find their rich and famous relatives etc. I could imagine this being a very useful service to many people. One of my relatives added my name to his tree and geni created an account in my name and added me to the tree and notified me about it. The email had options to opt out of more spam from them. I had a talk with my relative and expressed my concern about adding vast quantities of private info about our lives to a searchable, indexable database owned by some for-profit company over which we have absolutely no control. As it is the net has so much of our public information. Why compound the problem by adding our private information as well?

    Looks like it had an impact and my relative decided to close his account and destroy the tree. But geni claims they need my permission to destroy my account. Is it reasonable for a company that bribes its users with free family tree service in exchange for private info about people to follow a opt-out policy? Shouldn't they be required to notify me and get my consent before they add my name? I have received invites from other social networking sites, but they all require me to create an account first. If I ignore the email, I hope, they would not add me to their databases. Probably they will just sell my email address to spammers and stop with that.

    I believe there is neither a technological or legal solution to this problem. A new geni.com could easily be run by Russian mafia outside US borders and thumb their noses at us. I think the only solution is social. They are using social engineering to pry private info from the public by offering some service or the other for free. We need to educate the public about the implications of succumbing to the temptations by them. Today if I set up a stand in a fairground and ask people to give the names, addresses and phone numbers of their relatives and friends in exchange for small token gifts the response would not be overwhelming. Somehow people believe it is wrong to tell strangers such information. But set up the same stand in the internet and people are punching in the email addresses of their friends and relatives like gangbusters. What would it take to educate the public about the menace to privacy these companies pose?

    I did my best. I pointed out the liability issues the company has like some stalker tracking down someone hiding in a relative's home or identity thieves making use of the mother's maiden names data etc. Told the company that they must disclose their liability to their investors and to anyone they are trying to sell to. Made it official and made it difficult for the company officers to claim later, "We never anticipated that development". If we keep raising the liability issue with these companies, may be we can get their venture capital to dry up. Just a thought.

  • by imyy4u3 (1290108) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @08:58AM (#24872353)
    I really don't see the point in these privacy policies. They are written in the most boring, impossible-to-comprehend way in the hopes that no one will actually take the time to figure out what the policy is. Because let's face it, if everyone knew that Slashdot's privacy policy allows them to sell your email address and first born child (just kidding!), no one would sign up on the site. So companies word these statements in a way that discourages anyone from reading them, yet still covers their ass if they get sued.

    I really think something needs to be done about this, because 99.9% of people don't read lengthy EULAs and privacy policies simply because they are too long, boring, and difficult to understand, yet we are agreeing to conditions we probably would never agree to if we knew about them. Perhaps a law stating that the policies must be written at a sixth grade level, use small and non-legal words wherever possible, and come with a 1-page summary of the major rights. I think that would be a fantastic idea.

    • by cfulmer (3166) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @09:31AM (#24872633) Homepage Journal

      They're mandated by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

      There's also no reason for them to be hard to read. See, for example, the FTC's privacy policy: http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/privacy.shtm [ftc.gov]

      Unfortunately, with Internet T&C, there are a few times where the requirements to be legally binding are at odds with being readable to the layman. For example, if you want to disclaim the implied warranty of merchantability, you generally need to put that disclaimer in all-caps and specifically mention that warranty. But, "Warranty of Merchantability" is really a term of art, and a lay person may not understand what it means.

      But, absent those times, the fact that a websites T&C are hard to read is really a problem with the lawyer not drafting them for the appropriate audience. Sometimes that comes from the site operator, who doesn't want to be billed for the extra legal time.

      That said, I'm not a big fan of your suggested law -- that's a lot of money spent on documents that nobody really reads. More often than not a typical user who slogged through the T&C will conclude "Yeah, that's about what I expected."

      Funny story: my kid signed up for the Ty Beanie Baby on-line service. At the end of the sign-in process (which was clearly intended for children to read), there was a cartoon character that said "Be sure to read the terms and conditions and click accept!" The T&C were in a separate scrolling 4-line text box, and was written in absurd legalese. I have no idea how Ty things that's going to be binding.

    • Do these thing even hold up? In the Netherlands you have to comply with certain legal standards with regards to privacy. Not to mention that you don't get to put whatever you want in a contract/agreement and expect to get away with it. In these cases a strong argument can be made that since no one reads them then the terms are no more than what is socially/legally acceptable. Basically as good as not saying anything at all.
    • by Icarium (1109647) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @10:08AM (#24873063)

      Because let's face it, if everyone knew that Slashdot's privacy policy allows them to sell your email address and first born child (just kidding!), no one would sign up on the site

      You mean you didn't create a once off, disposable email address for the purposes of registering? There's a bin for your geek card on the left as you leave the building, thanks!

      On a more serious note, Slashdot is probably one of the few forums of its size where a significant number of members would be able to figure out exactly who leaked/sold thier email addresses, and it probably wouldn't take too many people pointing fingers at SF for doing such a thing before they started leaking subscribers. There's a difference between having no legal recourse and being helpless.

    • by Nimey (114278)

      It's a good idea. We should also re-write the various laws in unambiguous sixth- or eighth-grade English.

    • I read the first two sentences and stopped. You're right: reading is boring! ;)

  • Privacy policies need a PhD to decipher, or just an bachelors? I'd love to run around saying I have a PhD when I only have a bachelors, since clearly nobody cares about the difference...

  • Dubious measure. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ledow (319597) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @08:59AM (#24872363) Homepage

    I don't believe it for a second - the measures used are dubious at best (try the Word readability macros and see for yourself - they do Fleisch-Kincaid scores too). At minimum, they have to be used properly. For instance, the single word text "communication" is so unutterably high on all the indices that it skews the results completely. And the text of Alice in Wonderland on Project Gutenberg scored:

    Coleman Liau index : 28.19
    Flesh Kincaid Grade level : 11.95
    ARI (Automated Readability Index) : 21.61
    SMOG : 11.68

    So that's a hefty margin of error, removes all use of any average and says that you have to be a virtual genius to read Alice in Wonderland, or a 11th-grader. Mmm. Yes. Accurate measure.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tpjunkie (911544)
      Ever read Alice in Wonderland? The verbiage is...unique, to say the least, with long, made-up words, as well as normal words modified in unconventional ways. "Curiouser" springs to mind immediately. Point is, a Lewis Carroll work might not be the best thing to use to check machine-determined readability.
      • Re:Dubious measure. (Score:5, Informative)

        by ledow (319597) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @09:31AM (#24872635) Homepage

        I did - with several PG texts. Alice shows the most "variability" of the ones I tried between the different scores. Are these same grading schemes designed to cope with pages of numbered T&C's? I don't know. The point is that the measures are useless unless used under certain conditions and no effort has been made to ensure those conditions were met.

        It's a poor application of what are basically statistical formulae on the lengths of certain words. What if the ISP's name was "BT" compared to "International Communications"? What if one ISP uses the "hereafter referred to as THE COMPANY" trick and one states the company name each time? It's a totally bogus measure. I could easily form any conclusion I felt like by playing with this "experiment" and it would be hard to argue against it without a basic knowledge of statistics. However, the article's approach is completely rubbish and anyone who looks at what those grades measure can see it's a waste of time.

        That said, most ISP T&C's don't follow the "plain English" doctrine more than "we use long words". They HAVE to use long words, the technical descriptions demand it most of the time. I could reword any of those T&C's to be MORE difficult to understand, despite being perfect English, and get a lower reading score.

        If you're gonna quote numbers about something, know what the numbers mean and how they apply.

        • by gardyloo (512791)

          Bravo! Someone who actually understands---and is able to cogently research and explain---some of the tricks that many algorithms use to trick people into thinking the programs are worth the ruled paper they're printed on! Nice.

    • Through the Looking Glass is even worse. A Ph.D. isn't enough to understand some of the text in that one: you need to be an anthropomorphic egg to have that level of command of the language. There's glory for you!
    • Well, while I get your point and agree with it...Alice in Wonderland has a lot of hidden complexity which can be read on many different levels. So maybe in this case the disparity is actually correct.
    • Interesting results.

      Please tell me you cut the legalese of the PG preface from the text before testing it.

    • by digitig (1056110)

      Yes, the measures are poor because none of them take into account sentence structure, just things like syllable counts and sentence length. Things such as embedded clauses, inserted clauses, lexical chains (or lack of them), cohesion (particularly the presence of cataphoric references) and so on can all have a big effect on readability, and none of them come into any of the readability indexes of which I am aware.

      A long sentence can be clear and easy to read because the information is presented in a simple

  • by cbiltcliffe (186293) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @08:59AM (#24872371) Homepage Journal

    Insight Communications, which at a level of over 20 years of eduction officially puts it onto IRS Code territory.

    Slashdot, on the other hand, is sitting somewhere around a grade 3 level.... :)

    • by MadKeithV (102058)
      No, you misunderstand...
      Eduction is a fancy word for "pulling data out of a rear excretory orifice.".
    • Have you met many recent graduates? I'd say "eduction" sits right up there with the current requirements for a Bachelors :(.

      Face it, Masters is the new Bachelors and Bachelors is the new High School diploma.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kiwimate (458274)

        Have you met many recent graduates? I'd say "eduction" sits right up there with the current requirements for a Bachelors :(.

        Face it, Masters is the new Bachelors and Bachelors is the new High School diploma.

        Can someone explain this to me? I live in the U.S. now, but grew up elsewhere, and I don't get how the university system works here.

        When I went through university (outside the U.S.), I studied science: computer science, physics, calculus, etc. My friends who were doing anthropology or commerce studied, well, anthropology and sociology, or accounting and economics and so forth. There seemed to be an implicit assumption that the basics of reading and writing and history and anything else outside of your core

        • Well, here's an anecdotal tale - Back in the Olden Days (late 1970's) when I was a graduate student (Univ. of Colorado Boulder), the faculty got so annoyed at the undergraduate's complete inability to form simple declarative sentences in English that they decided to put the undergraduate course exams in essay format. I am not sure what the theory was here - a single two page test a week was unlikely to overcome four years of inattention, but we were just peons, so we did it....

          So the TA's who taught the
    • From my experience Slashsdotters appear to be above average ... but that is not hard since the average person on the internet should still be in school according to their reading and writing ability

      • the average person on the internet should still be in school according to their reading and writing ability

        Actually, I think they should be in a straitjacket and confined to a mental institution, but that's just me......

        Although it's really sad when the its-it's-your-you're-lose-loose massacring crowd at Slashdot is pretty much the best the Internet has to offer. :-/

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by cashman73 (855518)
      I think Fark's privacy policy [fark.com] is one of the best. They have a short version: "We will not give your addresses to third parties. We hate spammers. Bunch of jackasses is what they are." And then, there's a longer, official version for the lawyers,... ;-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Am I the only one who thought that IRS Code territory is actually pretty simple. Pretty much a bunch of 4th grade arithmitic with some logic operators. Disclaimer: I only have ever had to work on my personal taxes, not corporate taxes.

      • by Kjella (173770) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @12:25PM (#24875327) Homepage

        Am I the only one who thought that IRS Code territory is actually pretty simple. Pretty much a bunch of 4th grade arithmitic with some logic operators. Disclaimer: I only have ever had to work on my personal taxes, not corporate taxes.

        That depends entirely on whether you're trying to follow the rules or circumvent the rules. I'm guessing 90% of the "misunderstandings" are more like "we thought we could get away with this, you mean we can't?"

      • by againjj (1132651)
        I bet you have only read the instructions that come with the tax forms. Tax form instructions are not the tax code [cornell.edu]. Here is Title 26, Subtitle F, Chapter 65, Subchapter A, Sec. 6406 [cornell.edu] which was somewhat arbitrarily chosen. However, since you talked about personal taxes, how about the section defining gross income and tax owed [cornell.edu]?
        • bet you have only read the instructions that come with the tax forms. Tax form instructions are not the tax code.

          True.

          how about the section defining gross income and tax owed?

          What about it. Though long, it was simple. Choose which category you belong to. Use a linear formula based on income. I stopped reading partway down, as I determined that the above referenced the section to which you refered.

  • by Rie Beam (632299) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @09:01AM (#24872389) Journal

    Um, as far as I can understand, privacy policies are there for legal reasons, written in legalese to give them a quasi-legal basis for defending their policies.

    Unless you're a lawyer or have a lawyer present each and every time you agree to a privacy policy (assuming you even agree to it, most are just implied to "work"), then it's basically just embedded, textual bullshit to somehow protect the company from lawsuits.

    I seriously doubt that a privacy policy would stand up very well in court, unless the judge is completely in the dark on matters of technology, in which case it's simply a matter of presenting the test case as a physical contract and seeing how it would stand up, or limiting the amount of power a privacy policy holds on a public website.

    Disclaimer: IANAL

    • by Sique (173459) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:03AM (#24873971) Homepage

      Um, as far as I can understand, privacy policies are there for legal reasons, written in legalese to give them a quasi-legal basis for defending their policies.

      All contracts and contractual condutions are. Because in an ideal world they will never be used at all, because both parties have understood what the other party expected of them and are behaving accordingly. Those written things called contracts and conditions and licenses and stuff are there if something goes wrong, to actually define the scope and the limits of the contract or license or whatever.

      But exactly because they are defining scope and limits, each party has to actually understand what they are defining as scopes and limits. So yes, on the one hand they are written for the lawyers to sort things out afterwards if something derails. But at first they should give the parties of the contract an idea what behaviour is actually expected of each of them. So it has to be understandable by the signing parties at first, and usable for lawyers as a second thought.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @09:05AM (#24872421)
    Given that most of the internet only has english as a second (or higher) language, you need to assess the language in terms of education. Also you should add on the time needed to get to the level of linguistic proficiency to read the terms, as well as understand the legal system of the foreign countries that present these policies.

    Once this is taken into account is it any surprise that the vast majority of web users simply click "I agree" to anything they see

  • Just use this video [youtube.com] as a model. Should be easy enough to understand then.

  • BIG NEWS!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by qoncept (599709) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @09:09AM (#24872447) Homepage
    Are these privacy policies any more difficult to read than the rules to McDonalds' annual Monopoly game? Come on, they are worded in a way so as to protect the company posting them, not to genuinely inform their customers.
  • That would be a POSTgraduate degree

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday September 04, 2008 @09:16AM (#24872505)

    I knew I was making those student loan payments for SOMETHING.

    And, given my experience working with the typical American, it would be impossible to dumb down anything enough for most of them to understand anyway. When I was in college, I took educated friends and co-workers for granted. When I came out into the "real world" it was a bit of culture shock to realize that the vast majority of real people not only don't have college degrees, but also read at about a "See Dick run" level.

  • You'd only need a college undergraduate degree to understand these things, according to the description.

    So privacy policies are great -- for BS.

  • Just out of curiosity, I ran Slashdot's privacy policy through the online site linked to in the article. [I selected starting with "SOURCEFORGE, INC. UNITED STATES/EUROPEAN UNION SAFE HARBOR PRIVACY STATEMENT ("PRIVACY STATEMENT")" and ended with "Mountain View, CA 94041".] The results?

    Number of characters (without spaces) : 19,080.00
    Number of words : 3,465.00
    Number of sentences : 178.00
    Average number of characters per word : 5.51
    Average number of syllables per word : 1.90
    Average number of words p
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just read the part that says "No matter what this privacy policy says, we reserve the right to change any part of it in any way at any time without any notice to anyone, and the new policy will automatically and instantly apply to anyone who ever agreed to any other privacy policy we have ever had" and the part that says "we absolutely positively guarantee that we will not share any of your information in any way with anyone ever, except our business partners, which we define as 'anyone who gives us money'"

  • You have now given another generation of Students For Life a thesis topic for their PhDs.

  • I wonder? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BCW2 (168187) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @09:56AM (#24872921) Journal
    A year or so ago a man was being sued by M$ for having one copy of XP running on 3 computers (one purchased key). His defence was the EULA was unenforceable since it was only understandable by a lawyer and nobody has a lawyer looking over their shoulder when installing software. His lawyer (go figure) did a masterful job of saying that since the average person could not understand the EULA it was meaningless and unenforceable.

    Does anyone know the outcome of that case?
  • I think as a rule, if you just educate people that free sites that take personal information are in the business of selling that information, the public would get the drift.

  • I think you're giving far too much weight to the average college education. There were people in my MBA classes that had maybe a 7th grade reading level...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Belial6 (794905)
      I agree. It is amazing how many people I have met that had a college education, and not only had a very poor general education, but had a very poor understanding of the subject they majored in in college.
  • If only Slashdot posts were like Privacy Agreements! Then I could edit them, at my discretion, on a later date.

  • Most computer hardware comes with EULAs which require understanding of legalese, but at the same time one usually finds couple of silica gel pouches with "DO NOT EAT" printed on them. So who do they think their customer is? An educated mind, capable of understanding EULA or an idiot putting everything in his/her mouth?
  • It would be interesting to see a precident set that if a law (or contract/agreement/whatever) could be deemed to be not-binding if the language used to define it was either above the education level of the defendant/signer, or just above whatever the national average education level is.

    While I know that ignorance isn't a defence, mental capacity is, so why not level of education? Just a thought...

  • I read the IRS code for a living and I only have 19 years of education,* you insensitive clod!

    * K-11th = 12, undergrad = 4, law school = 3

  • Unfortunately I think we're wasting a lot of money on a legalist culture, I think we should just have laws that disavow certain kinds of things to be sued for to begin with, and we should remove corporate personhood as well and make the owners liable.

    The whole problem is no one takes responsibility for anything, we live in a resonsibilityless culture, both in business and from consumers.

    They bad ones harm the good businesses and good consumers in the process. It sucks.

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