Why people do not read privacy policies

In Information industry on October 14, 2008 by Danielle Tagged: , , , , , ,

A couple of US researchers have found that the ‘average’ privacy policy on a website (where personal details are gathered) takes, on average, 10 minutes to read. The average length of a privacy policy is 2,500 words. The researchers then told a group of people to ‘skim’ read (quickly read by scanning for pertinent details) a sample policy (that was only 1000 words long). They found even just doing that took the participants from 3 to 6 minutes on average (and one poor soul 42 minutes).

The part of this Outlaw article I love is where they did a cost analysis, supposing that US citizens would demand to be paid for their trouble. Minimum wage? And what number of policies were read? Their hourly wage wasn’t given, but the grand total came to about $365 billion US per year. Perhaps this excerpt from the original research paper by McDonald and Cronor better explains it:

We…used data from Nielsen/Net Ratings to estimate the number of unique websites the average Internet user visits annually with a lower bound of 119 sites. We estimated the total number of Americans online based on Pew Internet & American Life data and Census data. Finally, we estimated the value of time as 25% of average hourly salary for leisure and twice wages for time at work. We present a range of values, and found the nationwide cost for just the time to read policies is on the order of $365 billion. Additional time for comparing policies between multiple sites in order to make informed decisions about privacy brings the social cost well above the market for online advertising.

It’s an interesting idea to apply costing in this way to privacy and to assume that people compare privacy policies. I don’t think they do, in reality. Maybe in the US they do?


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