Website privacy policies too complex: Privacy Commissioner

Fifty per cent of sites examined had policies over 2600 words long, says Timothy Pilgrim

Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has raised concerns with lengthy and complex website privacy policies after releasing the results from a privacy sweep of Australia’s 50 most visited sites.

The sweep took place in May this year to see if privacy policies could be easily understood and accessed.

The sites were also rated against the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) which come into law on 12 March 2014. To comply with APP1 which covers the open and transparent management of personal information, organisations must have an up-to-date privacy policy.

Pilgrim said the results of the sweep were mixed with 83 per cent of sites having one or more issues such as accessibility, contacts for further information, relevance and length.

“It is a concern that nearly 50 per cent of website privacy policies were difficult to read,” he said in a statement.

“On average, policies were over 2600 words long. In my view, this is just too long for people to read through.”

He added that many privacy policies were also complex, making it difficult for most people to understand what they were signing up to.

In addition, the sweep found that over 65 per cent of privacy polices provided information that was not relevant to the handling of personal information and was potentially confusing. One website did not have a privacy policy.

Pilgrim said that some policies could not be accessed by Australians who were blind or disabled.

“Privacy policies need to be accessible by all users. This means that policies should be in formats that can be read by people using assistive technologies like a screen reader."

However, he added that there were some instances where organisations provided both a simplified and full policy to assist their customers to understand what will happen to their personal information.

“This attempt to use layered privacy policies is encouraging,” said Pilgrim.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner will use the sweep findings for developing of privacy policy advice.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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