Fewer than half of Facebook and Google users understood the sites' privacy policies

A study points to notifying users within applications as an alternative

Most users of Facebook and Google had fundamental gaps in understanding, even after reading privacy policies, about how the websites handled their information and how other Web users could discover it, according to a study released by the digital branding firm Siegel+Gale [cq].

Users understood the privacy policies less well than they did government documents or bank card agreements, the study said. They earned comprehension scores between 35 and 40 out of 100 for both policies. The survey asked just over 400 people to read the companies' policies and then answer questions about them online.

"We forced users to pay attention to this, but even through forcing them to pay attention, they still couldn’t understand what was in these privacy policies and were failing to grasp the basic information that was supposed to be communicated," said Brian Rafferty [cq], global director of insight at Siegel+Gale.

The study is hardly the first to find that users are uneasy with how much of their information becomes public through their use of websites and mobile applications. It is among a growing body of research demonstrating the ineffectiveness of privacy policy statements as a way to keep users informed about how their data is used.

After reading the policies, just 23 percent understood that their Google+ profile is visible to anyone online. Just 30 percent knew that even with the strictest privacy settings activated, their Facebook user names remain public.

The study also pointed to problems with Google's efforts earlier this year to notify users that it was consolidating the privacy policies for its diverse services. Less than half of users understood that the company's privacy policy related to their use of YouTube and Google Maps.

A Google spokesman called the company's user education campaign "the most extensive notification effort in Google’s history."

The study suggests that informing users within the app or website how their information is being shared is a better way to safeguard privacy.

Justin Brookman [cq], director of the Project on Consumer Privacy at the Center for Democracy and Technology, agreed.

"Privacy policies are not a great way to inform users," he said.

"When I'm trying to figure out a privacy question on Facebook, I go to the help center or FAQs or whatever it is," Brookman said. "I don't ever go to the privacy policy. Same thing with Google."

Brookman pointed out that both Google and Facebook have begun including more intuitive notification methods.

A Google spokesman pointed to those features, and said its "privacy center, published FAQs, Help Center articles, Good to Know website and in-product notifications help explain what data we collect, how we use it and how people can manage their information."

Facebook has also moved toward including more information about how users' information can be accessed. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Cameron Scott

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?