We live in a big-data world. Everyday companies collect, use and sell our information — often with our consent but without us fully understanding how. As data breaches continue, and consumers grow more anxious about their online protections, privacy policies are more important than ever. But they’re often inconspicuous or difficult to understand.
One way to protect your privacy is to learn how an organization will use personal information before you provide it.
The General Data Protection Regulation, a 2018 European Union data-privacy protection framework, requires privacy policies to be delivered in a “concise, transparent and intelligible form, using clear and plain language.” But often, exactly the opposite is true.
The policies also often outline companies’ reasoning for collecting (and sometimes selling) your data, according to the research. “The data market has become the engine of the internet,” he said, “and these privacy policies we agree to but don’t fully understand help fuel it.”
Understandably, then, most Americans are anxious about the personal information that is collected and shared, and the security of their data, according to Pew Research Center studies.
A 2014 survey found that 91% of Americans agree that people have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by all kinds of entities. Nearly 80% of those on social media are concerned about advertisers and businesses accessing the data they share, and more than half think the government should do more to regulate advertisers.
Six out of 10 Americans said they would like to do more to protect their privacy. Educating yourself about privacy policies — particularly the specific ones for the services you use — is a good place to start.
So what can you do?
If you’ve already provided your email address and other personal data, you may receive promotional emails, in which privacy policies often surface at the bottom just like the “unsubscribe” functions. If you can’t find a policy, consider it a red flag and take pause.
Once you’ve found a policy, scroll through and look for potential opt-outs or helpful privacy settings if you’re uncomfortable sharing your personal information with third parties for marketing. If the policy states, for example, that data sent to third parties can be used for advertising purposes, then you could expect to see an increase of spam in your inbox.
Some organizations, like the Center for Identity at the University of Texas at Austin, have created helpful tools that scan policies to help consumers quickly learn how a company handles personal data. Transparency is a good thing. Privacy policies empower consumers to better understand and control the data they share. But they’re only useful if easily understood and people actually read them. To stay on top of all the latest methods of keeping your data safe and secure, get plugged into our Resource Center.