Plain Language Privacy Policies

January 21, 2016

This is the latest post in a series about law and the internet. You can find previous posts in the series here.

This is a follow-up to a post I wrote about the basics of privacy policies with an update that is near and dear to my heart – implementation of plain language into the normally dense, legalese-infested, privacy policy. Despite being a lawyer, I’m a fan of the plain language approach to drafting certain types of agreements and documents. As I wrote earlier this week, sometimes legalese can’t (or shouldn’t) be avoided.

A quick refresher in case you haven’t read What is a Privacy Policy and What Does It Do? – a privacy policy is a statement that notifies users about the way their data will be used by a website operator, app developer or other entity. and the Center for Plain Language collaborated to rate and review privacy policies from seven top tech companies for their readability and overall presentation. Read more here: These Companies Have the Best (And Worst) Privacy Policies.

One qualification on the rankings acknowledged in the article is “this is not an assessment of what data these companies have decided to collect from users or what they’ve decided to do with that data.” If you’re interested in how various platforms protect you (or fail to) with respect to government data requests, check out this report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: Who Has Your Back? Protecting Your Data from Government Requests.

Sure, many people just breeze past lengthy and often complicated privacy policies, however data security and privacy issues are becoming more important as a factor driving use of a particular site or service. Thus, plain language privacy policies and other documents such as terms of service are a critical first step to make a company’s practices transparent to the end user.

For example, take a look at our privacy policy on our site. We tried to present the information about our data collection practices in a straightforward way that is easily understandable to the user. If you do business on the web, how does your website’s privacy policy stack up? Does it comply with your data collection practices?

Matt Landis is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and works regularly with Internet users trying to make sense of it all. In his spare time, Matt enjoys long walks on the beach and reading privacy policies; his current favorite is the EFF’s Privacy Policy.