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BizReport : Law & Regulation : July 18, 2016

Are you sure you read the privacy policy?

It's well known that consumers are concerned with issues surrounding privacy, but new research confirms that very few bother to read privacy policies or terms of service.

by Helen Leggatt

Nearly all the students that signed up for fictitious social networking site 'NameDrop' agreed to give the website their first-born child as payment for access and agreed that their data can be shared with the National Security Agency and their employers.

Such are the consequences of failing to read, yet agree to, privacy policies and terms of service, found research by professors Jonathan Obar from York University and Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch from University of Connecticut.

Of the 500 or so college students who signed up for the fake social network, three-quarters (74%) skipped reading the privacy policy, selecting 'quick join' instead. Such 'quick join' options are common among social networks, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google. Furthermore, while the privacy policy should have taken 30 minutes to read, the average reading time was just 73 seconds.

The terms of service were also not read by most and among those that did the reading time was 51 seconds instead of the required 16 minutes. As such, 98% of those who signed up completely missed the terms of service clauses that required them to give up their first-born child as payment (enforceable until 2050), as well as agree to allow their data to be passed on to the NSA and their employers.

Overall, just 15% of the study participants expressed concerns about the policies, and of them only 1.7% mentioned the clause about giving up their child, and 2% mentioned concerns about data sharing.

According to the paper, 'The Biggest Lie on the Internet: Ignoring the Privacy Policies and Terms of Service Policies of Social Networking Services', "information overload" puts people off reading terms of service upon sign-up, or when it changes. Furthermore, that people "view policies as nuisance, ignoring them to pursue the ends of digital production, without being inhibited by the means".

The irony is that the college students involved in this study were all communications students, whose subjects would involve the study of privacy and data issues.

"If communication scholars-in-training cannot be bothered to read SNS policies, let alone demonstrate concern about the implications of ignoring notice opportunities, it seems likely that the general public would commonly ignore policies as well," pointed out the researchers.

Tags: privacy, research, terms of service

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