Let’s talk privacy

I had the good luck last week to attend the Global Privacy Summit 2011, hosted by the International Association of Privacy Professionals, on a scholarship funded by KPMG, LLP. Each day of the conference was filled with informative sessions (I found Debra Farber and Heidi Wachs session, “Tales from Two Aspiring CPOs,” particularly useful for an aspiring privacy pro like myself) and the opportunity to chat with dozens of privacy professionals. My final session, “The User Experience of Privacy Online,” really started me thinking about the three parties involved in any online privacy policy – the privacy officer, the web designer, and the user – and how we can make sure the goals of all of three groups are met when creating a privacy policy.

Here at the School of Information, I’ve had the chance to meet and befriend some very talented User Experience Designers and learned a bit about the UX field from them and the odd class here or there. Professionals in the UX field use a variety of standard methods to evaluate and understand their users and how they interact with websites and apps. They worry about things such as consistency and user recognition versus recall, and these are heuristics that I think privacy professionals can learn from. Are the ways we discuss privacy consistent between industries, or even within industries? Do we talk about privacy in such a way that users know what we are talking about? Do 6,000 word privacy policies really protect users? Or do they only tax users’ memory load, causing them to not even look at the policy? For example, Nathan Good, one of the panelists at this breakout session, mentioned that no research has been done into how users discuss privacy and what vocabulary they tend to use. Instead, the vocabulary is driven by policy makers, privacy officers, and lawyers and we have no way of knowing if the users understand what is being discussed.

UX designers use empirical research throughout the process of designing a website to make sure that they are meeting their users needs and desires and a quick search of the web can find some examples of this type of research as applied to privacy and security issues. Maybe its time for privacy pros to call their UX designers and ask about using similar research methods before we design our next generation of privacy policies.


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