Security News

7 Things to Look for in Privacy Policies

October 21, 2013
Privacy Policies cover

Privacy policies give you an idea of the amount of privacy online sites and services let you have. But given their length and use of complicated terms, these policies can be overwhelming to read. To make things simpler for you, just look out for these key items while reading.

1. What type of information does the site collect?

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Image derived from “welcome to the information desk” by >littleyiye<, used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license

Most sites only require the basics, like name, email address, and age, but some require more. If a site asks for sensitive information, like your credit card number or Social Security number, you may want to reconsider using it.

2. How does it collect information?

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Image Source: “Registration desk sign” by NHS Confederation, used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license

Most sites rely on cookies to collect information like shopping cart contents, registration or login credentials, and user preferences. Check to see if there are additional details describing the site’s use of cookies and other tracking methods.

3. Who has access to your information?

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Image from “Colmore Gate–Construction Site–Site Access signs” by Elliot Brown, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license

Policies should enumerate all parties—including government and law enforcement agencies—that have access to your information. Some sites only keep your information to complete transactions, while others may sell it to third parties or use your information for advertisements.

4. What are your options?

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Image Source: “Untitled” by Alexei Kuznetsov, used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license

Is there an option to not share your information? Are you allowed to review or edit the information you’ve given? Sites can provide opt-out boxes or a toll-free number in case you don’t want to disclose your information.

5. What are the security measures of the site?

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Image Source: “Padlock” by DeclanTM, used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license

The privacy policy should include details about protecting your information. Any site requesting for personal information should use Secure Socket Layers (SSL). Also look for signs of security, like “HTTPS” in the browser bar or a closed lock icon.

6. How long will the site store your information?

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Image Source: “24 hour clock” by h080, used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license

Some sites store information for specific periods of time, while some store your information indefinitely. You should find out what happens to your information should you decide to delete or deactivate your account.

7. Does the policy contain contact details in case you have questions or concerns?

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Image Source: “HELP” by marc falardeau, used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license

Social networking sites may also address concerns via a privacy seal or certification program. These programs require seal holders to follow certain privacy practice guidelines. Well-known programs include the Better Business Bureau, eTrust, TrustGuard, and TRUSTe. You can use these programs as another way of voicing out any concerns. Other privacy programs also include the Safe Harbor Programs.

Reading privacy policies is just one step in keeping things private. Check out our e-guides for more tips on how to protect your privacy online.

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