By Daniel Tkacik
“This is the first site to provide analysis of privacy policies at this scale,” says School of Computer Science Prof. Norman Sadeh, Lead Principal Investigator of the study and researcher in CyLab, Carnegie Mellon’s security and privacy institute. “Our objective is to produce succinct yet informative summaries that can be included in browser plug-ins or interactively conveyed to users by privacy assistants that inform users about salient privacy practices.”
“While navigating our site, people will notice how complex and fragmented many privacy policies are,” says Sadeh. “The vast majority of statements are about first-party collection and third-party sharing and contain significant levels of ambiguity when it comes to determining exactly what is being collected and with whom it is shared.”
“Color codes also make it clear that privacy policies tend to mix a variety of different statements in the same paragraph, often requiring the reader to read large portions of the policy, if not the entire policy, before hoping to be able to answer simple questions,” added Prof. Joel Reidenberg, the Fordham Principal Investigator on the project and director of Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy. “Many sites hardly provide users with any real choices. Most policies that mention ‘Do Not Track’ do so by simply indicating that they do not handle Do Not Track requests – the bare minimum required under CalOPPA.”
While the annotations on the website were crowdsourced from law students at Fordham University, the researchers say they’re working towards automation.
“We are now using machine learning and natural language processing to semi-automate and hopefully one day fully automate, the analysis of privacy policies,” says Sadeh.
The Usable Privacy Project is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The website design team also included Institute for Software Research post-doctoral fellows Dr. Mads Schaarup Andersen, Dr. Florian Schaub, Dr. Shomir Wilson, Language Technologies Institute graduate student Aswarth Dara and undergrad computer science freshman Sushain Cherivirala.