What do I need to look for in a privacy policy?Privacy policies are long, onerous and boring. Most consumers never read them, even though they constitute a binding contract. Here is a handy checklist of some quick things to skim for.

As we’ve previously discussed, even “non-sensitive” information can be very sensitive under certain circumstances. When reviewing a company’s privacy policy, you should focus on determining the following:

  • The type of information is gathered by the website, including information which is voluntarily provided (i.e., name, date of birth, etc.) and electronic information (i.e., tracking cookies).
  • What information is optional (i.e., requested but not required for website use) versus what information you must provide if you want to use the website.
  • With whom your information is shared, and if it is shared with affiliates, you should learn the identity of the affiliates.  The more information you provide, the more concerned the user should be about this answer.
  • How your information is used (i.e., for targeted advertising, for general marketing, for selling data to third-parties, etc.).  Similar to above, the more information you provide, the more concerned the user should be about this answer.
  • How long the website retains your information, and similarly, what rights you have to have all of your information deleted by the website (including information the website has already shared with third-parties).

Generally speaking, all website users should start with the assumption that all information provided is optional and will ultimately be shared with other companies or individuals.  Starting with that assumption then makes it easier psychologically to skim through the privacy policy or terms and conditions and pick out the exceptions which may protect your privacy.  If you are unable to quickly pick out those exceptions, or if the language is too confusing, the user should proceed with caution and assume his or her information will not be kept confidential – a decision which will dictate how and whether you proceed on the website.  Better to be safe than sorry with the information you provide.

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