Well Written Website Privacy Policy May Backfire

I know that I should be writing more short blog entries rather than just a few long blog entries. But as you can see, I have trouble keeping my entries short. There is so much to say about any topic. In this entry I will try to keep it short. Here goes.

I recently came across a website privacy policy that was well written and easy to understand. In this case, that may not have been a good idea.

I read an email post where someone said that he had read about the Nextdoor website in the news. He was excited to give it a try in his neighborhood. Here is how the website describes itself:

“When neighbors start talking, good things happen. Nextdoor is the private social network for your neighborhood. It’s the easiest way for you and your neighbors—and only you and your neighbors—to talk online and make all of your lives better in the real world. And it’s free.”

He added that he glanced at the Privacy Policy, but didn’t see anything “out of the ordinary” to his untrained eye. When he invited some of his neighbors to join, a storm of email erupted around the Privacy Policy. Neighbors feared the sale of all of their personal information and the storage of their data forever and responded that they “would never sign up on a site such as this!”

I was curious about his comment so I read the entire Nextdoor privacy policy. (I would think that only a lawyer would actually do that, but apparently people actually do read these things.) It is well written and is in plain English, rather than in difficult to understand legal jargon. I like that. I try to draft my agreements that way as well. But that may be the problem. Most people do not realize just how little privacy they have. Because the agreement is very clear, someone who reads the agreement will better understand how their data will get stored and used. It is not that the Nextdoor site will use their data any differently than other sites, it is that Nextdoor is more honest and more open and clear about how the data will be used. Even when a website does not share information, it often stores that information for a long time and uses that information on its website in various ways. The Nextdoor privacy policy explains all of this quite well. I suspect that their data retention and use policies are not unusual. What is unusual is how open and honest they are about it. As a result, people who read the privacy policy may be more concerned about this particular site than they should be. That is a strange case where being open and honest about what you do may not be the best policy.

As a side note, one of my themes in this blog is how little privacy we now have. Here is a good example. Even without joining the Nextdoor site, much of your neighborhood information is already quite public. Where I live, in King County Washington, if you want to know who owns the house across the street from you and how much they paid for it, all you have to do is look up the address on the King County Assessors office website. You can find a history of sales including the parties and the price paid, tax value assessments by year, pictures of the house, floor plans, statistical details about the house, and lots of other data. All of that is already public information.

I am not sure telling your neighbors that their privacy is already gone will help convince them to join the Nextdoor website. But it is largely true.

Update May, 2013:

Instagram had a similar reaction from its customers when it tried to simplify its terms of use contract. The newer terms were easier to understand and protected the customer more, but because the customer could now understand the contract, many of them complained. Instagram ended up reinstating its older terms of use contract. See Why
the Instagram debacle just taught every tech company to be shadier than ever
.

 

 

2 Responses to Well Written Website Privacy Policy May Backfire

  1. Hrm, I’m curious how Nextdoor’s privacy policy compares to Facebook? Do you have a lawyerly opinion on that?

  2. Lemuel says:

    I really appreciate this post. I have been looking
    all over for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing.
    You’ve made my day! Thanks again!

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