Privacy Policies Are Essentially Impossible To Understand, Study Finds

The data market has become the engine of the internet, and privacy policies we agree to but don’t fully understand help fuel it. From a report: To see exactly how inscrutable they have become, I analyzed the length and readability of privacy policies from nearly 150 popular websites and apps. Facebook’s privacy policy, for example, takes around 18 minutes to read in its entirety — slightly above average for the policies I tested. Then I tested how easy it was to understand each policy using the Lexile test developed by the education company Metametrics. The test measures a text’s complexity based on factors like sentence length and the difficulty of vocabulary. To be successful in college, people need to understand texts with a score of 1300. People in the professions, like doctors and lawyers, should be able to understand materials with scores of 1440, while ninth graders should understand texts that score above 1050 to be on track for college or a career by the time they graduate. Many privacy policies exceed these standards.

[…] The vast majority of these privacy policies exceed the college reading level. And according to the most recent literacy survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, over half of Americans may struggle to comprehend dense, lengthy texts. That means a significant chunk of the data collection economy is based on consenting to complicated documents that many Americans can’t understand. […] Airbnb’s privacy policy, on the other hand, is particularly inscrutable. It’s full of long, jargon-laden sentences that obscure Airbnb’s data practices and provides cover to use data in expansive ways. Things weren’t always this bad. Google’s privacy policy evolved over two decades — along with its increasingly complicated data collection practices — from a two-minute read in 1999 to a peak of 30 minutes by 2018.

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