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What “easier to read” means? In regard to new Google “privacy” policies

Débats - Debates

Google wrote me seven emails, one of each of services I am registered in to tell me: “We’re getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read.

That declaration brings me to three observations from following how the story unfolds this week:

First, the initial difficulty for the media, civil society actors, industry and members of Congress to determine whether or not this announcement corresponded or not to some changes in how  Google uses for our information and our user profiles, and if so which ones exactly.

Secondly, the difficulty to understand “easy to read” configurations: for example, the announcement tells me that I can choose, or not, to get personalized Google search results according to my interests as revealed by my uses of Google +, Gmail and YouTube: I have look in vain the configuration page, I never found the management panel for these configurations commands (anyone found them?). And even for those commands available, the description of their actual effects is often not that obvious, even to me for which studying such things are part of day job.

Indeed, thirdly, if Electronic Frontier Foundation is right, this is how I should manage this personalization:

“For individuals who would like to continue using Google products, but want to create some type of silo between Google search, YouTube, and other products, there is an option to set up multiple Google accounts. Users can set up two or more accounts as long as they have different Gmail addresses; however, individuals using this strategy to protect their privacy should be careful not to commingle-consider using separate browsers for each of your Google accounts. To be extra careful, users might want to use the Data Liberation tool to grab a copy of all of their data from a particular Google product, delete the data from the original account, and then upload that data onto the new account. For example, an individual might set up a secondary Google account for browsing and sharing YouTube videos. She could then download all of her existing YouTube videos to her computer, delete them from her primary Google profile, and then use a separate browser to upload them to a new secondary Google account. Unfortunately, this is a somewhat laborious process. To help users who wish to keep separate accounts, Google should make the process simpler and easier.” (Source)

In short, may be “easy to read,” but not to understand, and even less to help empower the users.

But I would not blame only Google in particular. The whole industry has made little development in how to present reliable, verifiable, readily understandable pictures of what actually happens with one’s personal information to begin with. Policies writing and configuration design are still organization centered and dominated by jurists and engineers. In Canada, almost half of adult population has low literacy levels and certainly as much does not understand much about information processing. These are the users who should be the communication targets. And that means much more than simply providing “easy to read” wording…


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