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Privacy Policies Are Great — For PhDs

CmdrTaco posted more than 5 years ago | from the they-have-many-advanced-degrees dept.

Privacy 161

An anonymous reader writes "Major Internet companies say that they inform their customers about privacy issues through specially written policies. What they don't say is that more often than not consumers would need college undergraduate educations or higher to easily wade through the verbiage. BNET looked at 20-some-odd privacy policies from Internet companies that received letters from the House about privacy practices. The easiest to read policy came from Yahoo, at a roughly 12th grade level. Most difficult? Insight Communications, which at a level of over 20 years of eduction officially puts it onto IRS Code territory."

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first... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872279)

...post

It's Quite Obvious Why They're At This Level (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872285)

Well--and this is all from the prospective of a geography ignorant non-lawyer American--the fact is that most policies are in place to avoid confusion. Ah, who am I kidding, they're there so nobody sues the hell out of anyone else. And a policy is there to stop the worst kind of lawsuits: class action. I'm sure you would notice this if you did the same analysis of other policies--like healthcare, dental or auto insurance policies. Yes, your health and your automobile might seem more important than your privacy but the United States Justice system (is supposed to--like in the NYTimes article) stop companies from swindling any of those.

And there's not a lot you can do about this, we're going to want to sue the pants off a bastard company if suddenly our name and address is being traded on a disc with 50,000 others on the black market. So they write these policies to be air tight and they use terms that have legal connotations because I'm sure the only time these things are scrutinized are in court anyway. And the second you take away that level of granularity, I'm sure you see yourself as a company open up to lawsuits.

Re:It's Quite Obvious Why They're At This Level (4, Insightful)

houghi (78078) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872527)

a policy is there to stop the worst kind of lawsuits

And that explains who the EULA is written for. It is is not written for Joe Sixpack. It is not for the user. It is to be used in lawsuits. This means it is written for the people who work with the law, lawers.

And those are the people who write them, because they are also the people who they are intended for.

Also often I see a lot of copy and paste. Especially on the bullshit attachments they put under an email.

In some countries an EULA is not even legal and most of them are written for US law. Well, many countries have different laws and if you don't like that, then you should not make the software available there from your website.

Then there is the fact that an EULA is not available in the language(s) of the country.

Yeah, it is a bitch that you should make the EULA available for all those laws, languages and countries, so cry me a river.

Re:It's Quite Obvious Why They're At This Level (2, Insightful)

bleh-of-the-huns (17740) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873591)

I disagree slightly, while yes their should be a legalese version which is the default, the EULA is an end user license agreement, not a end user lawyer agreement.

It is there specifically for the end user to understand his and her rights with regards to the software the user purchased. Unless software manufacturers expect us all to retain lawyers to purchase our software and products for us, the EULA should be in plain, easily readable to any high school student English (that last bit brings up other issues on the quality of the education system but thats an argument for another day)

Re:It's Quite Obvious Why They're At This Level (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 5 years ago | (#24874073)

Anyone else remember the old "Borland No-Nonsense License Agreement"?

Re:It's Quite Obvious Why They're At This Level (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24873597)

In some countries an EULA is not even legal and most of them are written for US law. Well, many countries have different laws and if you don't like that, then you should not make the software available there from your website.

Dear houghi:

Your post, #24872527, has violated the laws of the island nation of Madeupexamplia, specifically section #328, subsection 2 that requires all messages to include a translation in Madeupexamplish, the national language of Madeupexamplia. If you do not have the resources to translate your post into Madeupexamplish, you should not make your posts available there via the Slashdot website. If you persist in making your posts available in Madeupexamplia without including a Madeupexamplish translation, you may be subject to fines and/or other penalties. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Sincerely,

Someguy Madeupexamplton

Minister of Language Enforcement, Madeupexamplia

Madeupexamplish translation follows:

Blah blah blah...

Re:It's Quite Obvious Why They're At This Level (2, Insightful)

houghi (78078) | more than 5 years ago | (#24874147)

The server it is posted on is in the USofA. My country is Belgium. Please file a lawsuit in either country. Do understand that the laws of either Belgium or the USofA will apply and not that of the island nation of Madeupexamplia.

The fact that you downloaded this in English had made you violate the laws of the island nation of Madeupexamplia, specifically section #328, subsection 3 that requires only messages in Madeupexamplish, the national language of Madeupexamplia. can be downloaded.

Please go to the prison hut and lock yourself up, as required by law.

IIAML (I Am A Madeupexamplian Lawyer)

Re:It's Quite Obvious Why They're At This Level (1)

Farhood (975274) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873797)

...not written for Joe Sixpack

"Sixpack?" Really, Dude? 'Cause no one here has that.

Re:It's Quite Obvious Why They're At This Level (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24874191)

Unless you count Avatars.

Re:It's Quite Obvious Why They're At This Level (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872729)

I've never understood the point of these "privacy policies".

Regardless of their reading difficulty, they all end or contain:

"We have the right to change everything that you are agreeing to without your consent."

That is not a policy, that is especially not a privacy policy, its simply the individual giving up their privacy.

Re:It's Quite Obvious Why They're At This Level (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872743)

It's even more obvious than that...for the reasons you mentioned, companies have them written by their lawyers. The lawyers may have their paralegals write them, but still, whether your lawyer or a paralegal, you have a college eductation -- juris doctorates for lawyers and bachelor's degrees for paras (at least in most states).

Re:It's Quite Obvious Why They're At This Level (4, Insightful)

Fanro (130986) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872787)

So we need some standardisation for EULAs, just like foods must list their ingredients in some standard way.

Analyze the available EULAs, 90% of it boils probably down to the same few terms.
Make a list of these terms, label each with a descriptive short name, and maybe a symbol.
Then make a regulation that companies must use those labels if they want to describe terms equivalent to those labels in their EULA.

Every year, make a survey of EULAs to find parts that are not covered by any existing label to find wich new labels need to be added to the system.

Discourage companies from using terms not covered by labels, for example by a tax.

If this leads to mass lawsuits, fix the laws.

Re:It's Quite Obvious Why They're At This Level (2, Informative)

(Score.5, Interestin (865513) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873191)

So we need some standardisation for EULAs, just like foods must list their ingredients in some standard way. Analyze the available EULAs, 90% of it boils probably down to the same few terms.

This is why we have the EULAyzer [brothersoft.com] .

Re:It's Quite Obvious Why They're At This Level (1)

c1ay (703047) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873505)

And a policy is there to stop the worst kind of lawsuits: class action.

I suspect some of these policies actually open the door for some class action lawsuits. The first thing that came to mind reading some of them is the recent article on Groklaw about the unconscionability of the terms in AT&T's EULA [groklaw.net] . It highlights the facts that both substantive and procedural unconscionability can be found with contracts signed under duress or misunderstanding and based on factors, such as consumer ignorance or a great deal of unexplained fine print, that serve to deprive a party of a meaningful choice. Obviously anyone agreeing to these contracts with less than the education it would take to understand them could argue misunderstanding and ignorance and your would likely find high numbers of people among the signers with less than a Phd.

Re:It's Quite Obvious Why They're At This Level (1)

HardCase (14757) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873571)

I read Insight's privacy policy. If it really takes a PhD to understand that document, then I guess my undergrad degree must have been a lot more powerful than I thought!

It strikes me that the results of this "study" suggest that a human sanity check of the programs that evaluated the level of education necessary to understand the documents is in order.

Word length (2, Insightful)

name*censored* (884880) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872289)

The easiest to read policy came from Yahoo

Yes, but it's 5000 words long. Who has time to read 5000 words?

Re:Word length (5, Funny)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872333)

Who has time to read 5000 words?

You just need to break the task down and come up with a manageable work plan - if you tackle 5 words a day, you'll be done in less than 3 years.

Re:Word length (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872423)

Who has time to read 5000 words?

You just need to break the task down and come up with a manageable work plan - if you tackle 5 words a day, you'll be done in less than 3 years.

Yes, but by that time MS will have bought Yahoo and I'll have to start all over again.

Re:Word length (4, Funny)

click2005 (921437) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872335)

Yeah, couldn't they just do it as 5 pictures?

Re:Word length (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872407)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, and one were to take a photograph of a set of words greater than a thousand in count, it becomes obvious that there are extra words. Anything that contains more than a thousand words is therefore a waste of your time.

Re:Word length (3, Funny)

Zerth (26112) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872749)

Most privacy policies, EULAs, etc could easily be done in pictures.

They could even do it in just 2.

The goatse guy subtitled "You" and the other guy with the company's logo on a placard hanging off his "contract penalty"

Re:Word length (1)

arctanx (1187415) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872821)

If an overbearing EULA could be done with pictures, Google would have had an appendix on their Chrome comic.

Re:Word length (2, Interesting)

vmxeo (173325) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872897)

That's actually an intriging idea. Since many EULAs, privacy policies, contracts, etc. contain similar legal language, imagine coming up with a standardized set of icons for each point (think of the hazard icons from Portal). So for instance, an obviously imbalanced pair of scales when a contract requires arbitration, or a shrugging stick figure for the standard "we're not responsible for anything bad that happens when using our product".

Ok, so chances of it actually being implemented are close to nil. But I'm sure if you summarized the policy or EULA with cute little icons, people would start paying attention to what they're agreeing to.

Re:Word length (5, Insightful)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873195)

Actually, in most case (although not a legal document, even an illegal legal document like a EULA) the lower the education level needed to read, the more intelligent the writer.

For example, Isaac Asimov's books are written at roughly an eighth grade level, and his nonfiction still managed to educate intelligent, learned people. He was actually called "the great educator". Dr. Asimov held a PhD in biochemistry and taught and did research at (IIRC) Boston University. Asimov was a very intelligent man with a great imagination, and was one hell of a writer.

OTOH I read a paper once by some dimwit PhD who used the word "enumerate" five times in a single paragraph without once using the word "count". Writing like this is intended to obfuscate rather than illuminate, and its sole purpose is usually to impress you with how intelligent the moron is.

In a EULA the obfuscation's purpose is obviously to make you think the damned people won't use your personal information when in fact it actually says the opposite. These people are just slimy.

The thesaurus entry for obfuscate says bewilder, blur, cloud, confuse, darken, dim, garble, hide, muddle, obscure, perplex, puzzle. None are exact synonyms, so sorry; I'm not smart enough to convey this information well.

Re:Word length (1)

Fred_A (10934) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872621)

And the Insight policy is among the shortest at 1900 words...
Since all of these basically say the same thing, I believe it's their compression scheme that screws up the readability.

Re:Word length (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872987)

Well 5000 words is a lot. For something that is getting in the way of getting something done. One can sit down and read 5000 words at their leisure rather easily. However when need to read a privacy policy it is much more stressful. Should and Shouldn't do. Reading between the lines for hidden traps, etc... Then the fact that you are under pressure to do what you want to do. Like use the service or software. So for most people they are interested using the service then reading threw a document.

The legal system has Gotten so complex that a privacy policy like. We will collect you data that you entered in it and we will use it for our own research but will not share it to other companies. Is not good enough as it could mean partner companies or if they decide to use it for their marketing department firm, etc.... Or they can just use it for to do some analysis to see what their customers are doing with their product so they can make it better. However even if that was the case they need to save their butts on every legal tidbit so they don't get sued because people are finding they are getting more targeted adds.

Re:Word length (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873033)

Umm... people reading page after page of slashdot comments?

Re:Word length (1)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873803)

Actually, I'd agree that Yahoo's privacy policy is good. I've actually modeled privacy policies for some non-profits that I work with after theirs.

One thing I've learned.... (4, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872299)

... in my over-20 years of education, is that some things just aren't worth reading.

Re:One thing I've learned.... (4, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872419)

and you visit Slashdot anyway.

Re:One thing I've learned.... (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872709)

Ah, but I only RTFComments.

Re:One thing I've learned.... (1)

Migity (1199059) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872905)

hmmm...isn't that worse than reading TFAs?

Re:One thing I've learned.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24873317)

Well, let's see...

Slashdot comments are not spread out over 20 ad-infested pages with one or two paragraphs on each page.

Slashdot comments often contain much more detailed analysis than TFA, especially since some journalists feel qualified to write about things they know nothing about and can't seem to be bothered to fact check.

Slashdot comments are never slashdotted.

So, I'm gonna say no.

Can't never get enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872303)

eduction!

Privacy issue (4, Interesting)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872341)

This company [geni.com] is jockeying to become a social website by allowing its registered users to construct their family trees. The idea seems to be once a vast tree is created the users will be able to find their rich and famous relatives etc. I could imagine this being a very useful service to many people. One of my relatives added my name to his tree and geni created an account in my name and added me to the tree and notified me about it. The email had options to opt out of more spam from them. I had a talk with my relative and expressed my concern about adding vast quantities of private info about our lives to a searchable, indexable database owned by some for-profit company over which we have absolutely no control. As it is the net has so much of our public information. Why compound the problem by adding our private information as well?

Looks like it had an impact and my relative decided to close his account and destroy the tree. But geni claims they need my permission to destroy my account. Is it reasonable for a company that bribes its users with free family tree service in exchange for private info about people to follow a opt-out policy? Shouldn't they be required to notify me and get my consent before they add my name? I have received invites from other social networking sites, but they all require me to create an account first. If I ignore the email, I hope, they would not add me to their databases. Probably they will just sell my email address to spammers and stop with that.

I believe there is neither a technological or legal solution to this problem. A new geni.com could easily be run by Russian mafia outside US borders and thumb their noses at us. I think the only solution is social. They are using social engineering to pry private info from the public by offering some service or the other for free. We need to educate the public about the implications of succumbing to the temptations by them. Today if I set up a stand in a fairground and ask people to give the names, addresses and phone numbers of their relatives and friends in exchange for small token gifts the response would not be overwhelming. Somehow people believe it is wrong to tell strangers such information. But set up the same stand in the internet and people are punching in the email addresses of their friends and relatives like gangbusters. What would it take to educate the public about the menace to privacy these companies pose?

I did my best. I pointed out the liability issues the company has like some stalker tracking down someone hiding in a relative's home or identity thieves making use of the mother's maiden names data etc. Told the company that they must disclose their liability to their investors and to anyone they are trying to sell to. Made it official and made it difficult for the company officers to claim later, "We never anticipated that development". If we keep raising the liability issue with these companies, may be we can get their venture capital to dry up. Just a thought.

Re:Privacy issue (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872705)

If you think your mother's maiden name is private, you're fucking retarded.

Re:Privacy issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24873017)

Actually you are not too far off the truth here, states keep legal records of family history in the public realm. Being so it's not too very difficult to get this kind of information. So as a hint to people, don't use it as your security questions actual answer, use something like "What is your maiden name?" "Bobby);DROP DATABASE;"

Well now, isn't that an interesting name?

From a lawyer's perspective... (5, Insightful)

imyy4u3 (1290108) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872353)

I really don't see the point in these privacy policies. They are written in the most boring, impossible-to-comprehend way in the hopes that no one will actually take the time to figure out what the policy is. Because let's face it, if everyone knew that Slashdot's privacy policy allows them to sell your email address and first born child (just kidding!), no one would sign up on the site. So companies word these statements in a way that discourages anyone from reading them, yet still covers their ass if they get sued.

I really think something needs to be done about this, because 99.9% of people don't read lengthy EULAs and privacy policies simply because they are too long, boring, and difficult to understand, yet we are agreeing to conditions we probably would never agree to if we knew about them. Perhaps a law stating that the policies must be written at a sixth grade level, use small and non-legal words wherever possible, and come with a 1-page summary of the major rights. I think that would be a fantastic idea.

Re:From a lawyer's perspective... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872503)

Yes, dumb everything down. By law. That'll work.
Don't do something about the lack of education, dumb it down!
Why, oh why, does this remind me of Idiocracy ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387808/ [imdb.com] ) ?

Re:From a lawyer's perspective... (1)

Spatial (1235392) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872569)

I agree in principle, but there's nothing wrong with providing a summarised version in addition to the verbose text, if for no other reason than practicality. The law is supposed to be accessible to the average man, as far as I know.

Re:From a lawyer's perspective... (4, Insightful)

cfulmer (3166) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872633)

They're mandated by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

There's also no reason for them to be hard to read. See, for example, the FTC's privacy policy: http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/privacy.shtm [ftc.gov]

Unfortunately, with Internet T&C, there are a few times where the requirements to be legally binding are at odds with being readable to the layman. For example, if you want to disclaim the implied warranty of merchantability, you generally need to put that disclaimer in all-caps and specifically mention that warranty. But, "Warranty of Merchantability" is really a term of art, and a lay person may not understand what it means.

But, absent those times, the fact that a websites T&C are hard to read is really a problem with the lawyer not drafting them for the appropriate audience. Sometimes that comes from the site operator, who doesn't want to be billed for the extra legal time.

That said, I'm not a big fan of your suggested law -- that's a lot of money spent on documents that nobody really reads. More often than not a typical user who slogged through the T&C will conclude "Yeah, that's about what I expected."

Funny story: my kid signed up for the Ty Beanie Baby on-line service. At the end of the sign-in process (which was clearly intended for children to read), there was a cartoon character that said "Be sure to read the terms and conditions and click accept!" The T&C were in a separate scrolling 4-line text box, and was written in absurd legalese. I have no idea how Ty things that's going to be binding.

Re:From a lawyer's perspective... (1)

(Score.5, Interestin (865513) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873491)

There's also no reason for them to be hard to read. See, for example, the FTC's privacy policy: http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/privacy.shtm [ftc.gov] .

Governments (well some governments anyway) seem to be outstandingly good at providing comprehensible, sensible privacy policies. Look at the one from the Australian Institute of Criminology [aic.gov.au] for example or the New Zealand Police [police.govt.nz] (those sites chosen because they're organisations that some people would be a bit nervous about :-). They tell you exactly what they collect, how they collect it, why they collect it, what they do with it, and how to disable some of it (e.g. cookies) if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

Now compare it to Telsta's policy [telstra.com.au] which more or less says "We'll do anything we feel like with your personal data" - is there anyone in Australia that isn't included in some manner in their list of organisations that they'll hand your details to?.

Re:From a lawyer's perspective... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872927)

There is a glaring contradiction at work in all matters concerning the legal system. On the one hand the act of 'signing' a contract is to put your signature to a statement. That is a statement that effectively says "I understand the above clauses and agree to them".

The assumption is that all members of the general public understand a typical contract and are legally capable of signing it.

On the other hand, why am I as a member of the general public not allowed to practice law? To become a highly paid lawyer one needs 10 or more years of preofessional training. To do what exactly? To understand what any ordinary member of the public can?

These assumptions are at odds. Either I am legally capable of understanding a typical contract, or I am lying when signing it.

This two faced system has evolved to make lawyers rich. Requiring everyone to employ their trade to decode obfuscated and arcane nonsense, while asserting at the same time that anyone can and should understand it in so far as it applies to them.

We do have exceptions built in to law that address this. Minors or mentally ill people cannot be legally capable of signing a contract because it's assumed they cannot understand it. But, in reality this applies to everyone.

So, I propose a simple and effective solution to resolve this contradiction. Let's give the lawyers what they want. Let's make them absolutely indispensable and pass a law that requires any contract to be signed in the presence of a lawyer. If the contract is not signed under professional legal advice then the signatory can't be assumed to have understood it.

I imagine that an invisible hand would quickly correct that situation to the benefit of you and I.

Re:From a lawyer's perspective... (1)

TheJasper (1031512) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872977)

Do these thing even hold up? In the Netherlands you have to comply with certain legal standards with regards to privacy. Not to mention that you don't get to put whatever you want in a contract/agreement and expect to get away with it. In these cases a strong argument can be made that since no one reads them then the terms are no more than what is socially/legally acceptable. Basically as good as not saying anything at all.

Re:From a lawyer's perspective... (3, Insightful)

Icarium (1109647) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873063)

Because let's face it, if everyone knew that Slashdot's privacy policy allows them to sell your email address and first born child (just kidding!), no one would sign up on the site

You mean you didn't create a once off, disposable email address for the purposes of registering? There's a bin for your geek card on the left as you leave the building, thanks!

On a more serious note, Slashdot is probably one of the few forums of its size where a significant number of members would be able to figure out exactly who leaked/sold thier email addresses, and it probably wouldn't take too many people pointing fingers at SF for doing such a thing before they started leaking subscribers. There's a difference between having no legal recourse and being helpless.

Re:From a lawyer's perspective... (1)

Nimey (114278) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873075)

It's a good idea. We should also re-write the various laws in unambiguous sixth- or eighth-grade English.

Re:From a lawyer's perspective... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24873691)

Perhaps a law stating that the policies must be written at a sixth grade level, use small and non-legal words wherever possible, and come with a 1-page summary of the major rights.

Illegal words? What are those?

So which is it? (1)

xenocide2 (231786) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872357)

Privacy policies need a PhD to decipher, or just an bachelors? I'd love to run around saying I have a PhD when I only have a bachelors, since clearly nobody cares about the difference...

Re:So which is it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872877)

TFS:

Insight Communications, which at a level of over 20 years of eduction officially puts it onto IRS Code territory.

In the US you have K - 12 for 13 years of elementary education, and a bachelor's degree requires 4 years of suplimentary education for a total of 17 years. My 2nd grade Maths skills tell me 17 is less than 20. 20 or more is generally in the PhD range.

Dubious measure. (5, Interesting)

ledow (319597) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872363)

I don't believe it for a second - the measures used are dubious at best (try the Word readability macros and see for yourself - they do Fleisch-Kincaid scores too). At minimum, they have to be used properly. For instance, the single word text "communication" is so unutterably high on all the indices that it skews the results completely. And the text of Alice in Wonderland on Project Gutenberg scored:

Coleman Liau index : 28.19
Flesh Kincaid Grade level : 11.95
ARI (Automated Readability Index) : 21.61
SMOG : 11.68

So that's a hefty margin of error, removes all use of any average and says that you have to be a virtual genius to read Alice in Wonderland, or a 11th-grader. Mmm. Yes. Accurate measure.

Re:Dubious measure. (2, Interesting)

tpjunkie (911544) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872509)

Ever read Alice in Wonderland? The verbiage is...unique, to say the least, with long, made-up words, as well as normal words modified in unconventional ways. "Curiouser" springs to mind immediately. Point is, a Lewis Carroll work might not be the best thing to use to check machine-determined readability.

Re:Dubious measure. (5, Informative)

ledow (319597) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872635)

I did - with several PG texts. Alice shows the most "variability" of the ones I tried between the different scores. Are these same grading schemes designed to cope with pages of numbered T&C's? I don't know. The point is that the measures are useless unless used under certain conditions and no effort has been made to ensure those conditions were met.

It's a poor application of what are basically statistical formulae on the lengths of certain words. What if the ISP's name was "BT" compared to "International Communications"? What if one ISP uses the "hereafter referred to as THE COMPANY" trick and one states the company name each time? It's a totally bogus measure. I could easily form any conclusion I felt like by playing with this "experiment" and it would be hard to argue against it without a basic knowledge of statistics. However, the article's approach is completely rubbish and anyone who looks at what those grades measure can see it's a waste of time.

That said, most ISP T&C's don't follow the "plain English" doctrine more than "we use long words". They HAVE to use long words, the technical descriptions demand it most of the time. I could reword any of those T&C's to be MORE difficult to understand, despite being perfect English, and get a lower reading score.

If you're gonna quote numbers about something, know what the numbers mean and how they apply.

Re:Dubious measure. (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872765)

Bravo! Someone who actually understands---and is able to cogently research and explain---some of the tricks that many algorithms use to trick people into thinking the programs are worth the ruled paper they're printed on! Nice.

Re:Dubious measure. (1)

Migity (1199059) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873035)

Yeah...what's he doing on /.?

Re:Dubious measure. (1)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872901)

Through the Looking Glass is even worse. A Ph.D. isn't enough to understand some of the text in that one: you need to be an anthropomorphic egg to have that level of command of the language. There's glory for you!

Re:Dubious measure. (1)

TheJasper (1031512) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872941)

Well, while I get your point and agree with it...Alice in Wonderland has a lot of hidden complexity which can be read on many different levels. So maybe in this case the disparity is actually correct.

And the PG preface? (1)

cvd6262 (180823) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873295)

Interesting results.

Please tell me you cut the legalese of the PG preface from the text before testing it.

Writing quality... (4, Funny)

cbiltcliffe (186293) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872371)

Insight Communications, which at a level of over 20 years of eduction officially puts it onto IRS Code territory.

Slashdot, on the other hand, is sitting somewhere around a grade 3 level.... :)

Re:Writing quality... (1)

MadKeithV (102058) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872679)

No, you misunderstand...
Eduction is a fancy word for "pulling data out of a rear excretory orifice.".

Re:Writing quality... (1)

orthancstone (665890) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872735)

Have you met many recent graduates? I'd say "eduction" sits right up there with the current requirements for a Bachelors :(.

Face it, Masters is the new Bachelors and Bachelors is the new High School diploma.

Re:Writing quality... (2, Insightful)

kiwimate (458274) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872889)

Have you met many recent graduates? I'd say "eduction" sits right up there with the current requirements for a Bachelors :(.

Face it, Masters is the new Bachelors and Bachelors is the new High School diploma.

Can someone explain this to me? I live in the U.S. now, but grew up elsewhere, and I don't get how the university system works here.

When I went through university (outside the U.S.), I studied science: computer science, physics, calculus, etc. My friends who were doing anthropology or commerce studied, well, anthropology and sociology, or accounting and economics and so forth. There seemed to be an implicit assumption that the basics of reading and writing and history and anything else outside of your core degree were, you know, taught at school before you got to university. University was supposed to be where you studied a more specialized course of study.

So how the heck does the U.S. get to the point where, so far as I can tell, pretty much all university students are required to study basic history, or politics, or who knows what else that has nothing to do with their core course of study? (And I haven't even started on the whole "changing majors" yet.) If you haven't learned enough of those fundamentals by the time you're in an institution of higher learning, then what have you been doing at school for the last 12 years and how diluted has the value of that bachelor's degree now become?

Re:Writing quality... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873801)

Well, here's an anecdotal tale - Back in the Olden Days (late 1970's) when I was a graduate student (Univ. of Colorado Boulder), the faculty got so annoyed at the undergraduate's complete inability to form simple declarative sentences in English that they decided to put the undergraduate course exams in essay format. I am not sure what the theory was here - a single two page test a week was unlikely to overcome four years of inattention, but we were just peons, so we did it....

So the TA's who taught the lab portion of the course spent many an hour correcting basic English syntax and grammar. This coming from students who presumably graduated in the top 1/3 of their high school class. It was a long and horrifying experience (from the perspective of both the TA and student, I'm sure). I doubt things have improved recently.

[insert rant about the US K-12 education system here or reference the thousands of Slashdot posts on same]

Hopefully the civilized world has better basic education -- maybe you guys can conquer us and bring some teachers along ...

Re:Writing quality... (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 5 years ago | (#24874141)

wt do u mn? we alwyz txt lk ths.

Re:Writing quality... (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872799)

From my experience Slashsdotters appear to be above average ... but that is not hard since the average person on the internet should still be in school according to their reading and writing ability

Re:Writing quality... (1)

idg3 (1357525) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873087)

Slashdot, on the other hand, is sitting somewhere around a grade 3 level.... :)

I'm a third grader that reads Slashdot, you insensitive clod!

Re:Writing quality... (2, Informative)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 5 years ago | (#24874019)

I think Fark's privacy policy [fark.com] is one of the best. They have a short version: "We will not give your addresses to third parties. We hate spammers. Bunch of jackasses is what they are." And then, there's a longer, official version for the lawyers,... ;-)

Re:Writing quality... (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 5 years ago | (#24874121)

"Insight Communications, which at a level of over 20 years of eduction officially puts it onto IRS Code territory.

Slashdot, on the other hand, is sitting somewhere around a grade 3 level.... :)"

Actually, there is a devise called an "eductor". It sucks very hard.

This is news ...Why? (3, Insightful)

Rie Beam (632299) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872389)

Um, as far as I can understand, privacy policies are there for legal reasons, written in legalese to give them a quasi-legal basis for defending their policies.

Unless you're a lawyer or have a lawyer present each and every time you agree to a privacy policy (assuming you even agree to it, most are just implied to "work"), then it's basically just embedded, textual bullshit to somehow protect the company from lawsuits.

I seriously doubt that a privacy policy would stand up very well in court, unless the judge is completely in the dark on matters of technology, in which case it's simply a matter of presenting the test case as a physical contract and seeing how it would stand up, or limiting the amount of power a privacy policy holds on a public website.

Disclaimer: IANAL

Re:This is news ...Why? (3, Insightful)

Sique (173459) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873971)

Um, as far as I can understand, privacy policies are there for legal reasons, written in legalese to give them a quasi-legal basis for defending their policies.

All contracts and contractual condutions are. Because in an ideal world they will never be used at all, because both parties have understood what the other party expected of them and are behaving accordingly. Those written things called contracts and conditions and licenses and stuff are there if something goes wrong, to actually define the scope and the limits of the contract or license or whatever.

But exactly because they are defining scope and limits, each party has to actually understand what they are defining as scopes and limits. So yes, on the one hand they are written for the lawyers to sort things out afterwards if something derails. But at first they should give the parties of the contract an idea what behaviour is actually expected of each of them. So it has to be understandable by the signing parties at first, and usable for lawyers as a second thought.

and they're only published in english (2, Insightful)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872421)

Given that most of the internet only has english as a second (or higher) language, you need to assess the language in terms of education. Also you should add on the time needed to get to the level of linguistic proficiency to read the terms, as well as understand the legal system of the foreign countries that present these policies.

Once this is taken into account is it any surprise that the vast majority of web users simply click "I agree" to anything they see

Re:and they're only published in english (2, Funny)

Migity (1199059) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873059)

I agree

Privacy policies made easy (1)

Das Modell (969371) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872441)

Just use this video [youtube.com] as a model. Should be easy enough to understand then.

BIG NEWS!!! (4, Insightful)

qoncept (599709) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872447)

Are these privacy policies any more difficult to read than the rules to McDonalds' annual Monopoly game? Come on, they are worded in a way so as to protect the company posting them, not to genuinely inform their customers.

the truth is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872449)

I do drugs so you don't have to.

Soulja Boy Gay Sex Tape (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872465)

The GNAA has leaked the soulja boy gay sex tape. Search Google for it now!

Re:Soulja Boy Gay Sex Tape (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24873069)

Obviously, the GNAA has some massive loopholes in its privacy policy.

Undergrad != PHD (1)

shking (125052) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872483)

That would be a POSTgraduate degree

Re:Undergrad != PHD (1)

ubercam (1025540) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873243)

PhD = Piled Higher and Deeper
MBA = Master of Bugger All

My Ph.D. finally pays off! (2, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872505)

I knew I was making those student loan payments for SOMETHING.

And, given my experience working with the typical American, it would be impossible to dumb down anything enough for most of them to understand anyway. When I was in college, I took educated friends and co-workers for granted. When I came out into the "real world" it was a bit of culture shock to realize that the vast majority of real people not only don't have college degrees, but also read at about a "See Dick run" level.

Re:My Ph.D. finally pays off! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24873117)

We read slow. Eirous0 uses big words. See eirous0 be mean. Bad eirous0 bad.

Misleading title (1)

zoogies (879569) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872521)

You'd only need a college undergraduate degree to understand these things, according to the description.

So privacy policies are great -- for BS.

Sigh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872525)

The sad thing is, people are complaining the the privacy policies are "too hard" instead of complaining that companies treat customers like idiots everywhere else.

Are you people illiterate? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872547)

The EULAs from U.S. companies are in plain English. Granted, they may describe details to exhaustion and there are clauses which do not explain why exactly they want this or that.

If you're willing to understand the EULA, you just have to pay attention while you read.

English is not my first language, I don't live in a English-speaking country and, still, I'm able to understand that stuff (no, I don't have a PhD).

You people complain too much.
Certain countries have a really hard legalese language, one which you cannot really understand no matter how good you're at the base language.

How does /. do? (1)

Hotawa Hawk-eye (976755) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872747)

Just out of curiosity, I ran Slashdot's privacy policy through the online site linked to in the article. [I selected starting with "SOURCEFORGE, INC. UNITED STATES/EUROPEAN UNION SAFE HARBOR PRIVACY STATEMENT ("PRIVACY STATEMENT")" and ended with "Mountain View, CA 94041".] The results?

Number of characters (without spaces) : 19,080.00
Number of words : 3,465.00
Number of sentences : 178.00
Average number of characters per word : 5.51
Average number of syllables per word : 1.90
Average number of words per sentence: 19.47

Indication of the number of years of formal education that a person requires in order to easily understand the text on the first reading
Gunning Fog index : 15.88

Approximate representation of the U.S. grade level needed to comprehend the text :
Coleman Liau index : 15.09
Flesh Kincaid Grade level : 14.42
ARI (Automated Readability Index) : 14.24
SMOG : 15.19

Flesch Reading Ease : 26.32

The average of Gunning Fog, Flesh Kincaid, and SMOG indices is 15.16. If you do a scatterplot of lines versus complexity, interestingly Slashdot's policy appears pretty much dead center out of all the policies. Yahoo's is long but not too complex, Qwest and Bright House Networks fall in the short and less complex corner of the plot, and Insight Communications is indeed a bit of an outlier.

Re:How does /. do? (1)

Migity (1199059) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873307)

Yeah, what's up with that CmdrTaco?

You don't need to read much. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872849)

Just read the part that says "No matter what this privacy policy says, we reserve the right to change any part of it in any way at any time without any notice to anyone, and the new policy will automatically and instantly apply to anyone who ever agreed to any other privacy policy we have ever had" and the part that says "we absolutely positively guarantee that we will not share any of your information in any way with anyone ever, except our business partners, which we define as 'anyone who gives us money'".

Every privacy policy I have ever bothered to read contained both of those provisions. With those in place, why bother reading the rest?

Don't knock Insight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24872871)

Just because their privacy policy might be difficult to understand doesn't mean they don't provide an amazing service. Because they do. (at least where I live)

Re:Don't knock Insight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24873121)

Oh, I forgot. I am employed there.

Submitter, you fool! (1)

Dystopian Rebel (714995) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872917)

You have now given another generation of Students For Life a thesis topic for their PhDs.

I wonder? (3, Interesting)

BCW2 (168187) | more than 5 years ago | (#24872921)

A year or so ago a man was being sued by M$ for having one copy of XP running on 3 computers (one purchased key). His defence was the EULA was unenforceable since it was only understandable by a lawyer and nobody has a lawyer looking over their shoulder when installing software. His lawyer (go figure) did a masterful job of saying that since the average person could not understand the EULA it was meaningless and unenforceable.

Does anyone know the outcome of that case?

It's so obvious... (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873137)

I think as a rule, if you just educate people that free sites that take personal information are in the business of selling that information, the public would get the drift.

EULAs is not to be understood (1)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873149)

The language of lawyers is complicated just to be not understood by anyone who is not a lawyer. (And think lawyers language translated to a complicated language like portuguese of my country, is a hell to understood)

funny how (1)

nimbius (983462) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873157)

privacy policies read at the level of a cambridge philosophy laureate...but the average EULA spells out its rape-doctrine in plain english. guess nobody ever expects to have to defend their privacy policy with much rigour in court.

hang on..come to think of it... (1)

nimbius (983462) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873241)

http://www.insight-com.com/privacy.asp [insight-com.com] this really isnt THAT hard to read.

guess it should be mentioned the score is coming from online-utility.org

College Education != Intelligence (1)

aardwolf64 (160070) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873267)

I think you're giving far too much weight to the average college education. There were people in my MBA classes that had maybe a 7th grade reading level...

Re:College Education != Intelligence (2, Insightful)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 5 years ago | (#24874107)

I agree. It is amazing how many people I have met that had a college education, and not only had a very poor general education, but had a very poor understanding of the subject they majored in in college.

Privacy Policy (1)

cmaurand (768570) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873613)

We value your privacy, but we're going to give or sell your personal information information to anyone who asks. That's what most of them say, especially HPPA and Insurance Privacy Statements.

contract law (1)

Benjamin_Wright (1168679) | more than 5 years ago | (#24873743)

A privacy policy is a type of contract. Contract law is a two-way street. Each party can assert terms. If Google can assert its legal privacy terms just by publishing them (on something less than its homepage), then maybe Internet users can assert their own terms of privacy protection just by publishing [blogspot.com] them! --Ben http://hack-igations.blogspot.com/2008/05/google-privacy-policy-terms-of-service.html [blogspot.com] This idea is not legal advice, just something to discuss.

Always Behind the Times (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24873793)

The other half of this topic, being web privacy and Congress, once again illustrates the fact that our sagacious government leaders are always far behind the times when dealing with these important issues. How many years, for example, did we suffer with telemarketers until the FTC finally implemented the "Do Not Call" list? Web privacy has also long been threatened and only now is Congress expressing a desire to learn more about it. Each of us is again very likely to be continually assaulted for many more years during our on-line wanderings before an effective remedy is finally put into place. I wish that our politicians could remain more on the cutting edge of these issues and act to forestall them in their formative, rather than more mature, stages.

standard? (1)

DaveGod (703167) | more than 5 years ago | (#24874317)

Isn't there some kind of standard text for these things? I mean really, what does one ISP need to have a different policy from another ISP? The same goes for software EULAs.

It confuses customers, suggests at least one of any two differing policies has got it wrong, and it's expensive. Why isn't there a standard policy which has been thoroughly examined but only costs $100 because it's "off the shelf"? Better yet, anything considered "standard industry practice" is a strong legal argument.

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