We are concerned in this research project with the development of a future United States law on consumer privacy. We believe that development of future laws or regulations should be grounded in an understanding of what personal information companies collect, how they use it, and with whom they share it.
Deficiencies in Privacy Policies
Development of a comprehensive legal privacy framework in the United States should be based on identification of the common deficiencies of privacy policies. We attempt to delineate deficiencies by critically analyzing the privacy policies of mobile apps, application suites, social networks, Internet Service Providers, and Internet-of-Things devices. Whereas many studies have examined readability of privacy policies, few have specifically identified the information that should be provided in privacy policies but is not.
Privacy legislation invariably starts a definition of personally identifiable information. We find that privacy policies' definitions of personally identifiable information are far too restrictive, excluding information that does not itself identify a person but which can be used to reasonably identify a person, and excluding information paired with a device identifier which can be reasonably linked to a person. Legislation should define personally identifiable information to include such information, and should differentiate between information paired with a name versus information paired with a device identifier.
Privacy legislation often excludes anonymous and de-identified information from notice and choice requirements. We find that privacy policies' descriptions of anonymous and de-identified information are far too broad, including information paired with advertising identifiers. Computer science has repeatedly demonstrated that such information is reasonably linkable. Legislation should define these categories of information to align with technological abilities. Legislation should also not exempt de-identified information from notice requirements, to increase transparency.
Privacy legislation relies heavily on notice requirements. We find that, because privacy policies' disclosures of the uses of personal information are disconnected from their disclosures about the types of personal information collected, we are often unable to determine which types of information are used for which purposes. Often, we cannot determine whether location or web browsing history is used solely for functional purposes or also for advertising. Legislation should require the disclosure of the purposes for each type of personal information collected.
We also find that, because privacy policies disclosures of sharing of personal information are disconnected from their disclosures about the types of personal information collected, we are often unable to determine which types of information are shared. Legislation should require the disclosure of the types of personal information shared.
Finally, privacy legislation relies heavily on user choice. We find that free services often require the collection and sharing of personal information. As a result, users often have no choices. We find that whereas some paid services afford users a wide variety of choices, paid services in less competitive sectors often afford users few choices over use and sharing of personal information for purposes unrelated to the service. As a result, users are often unable to dictate which types of information they wish to allow to be shared, and which types they wish to allow to be used for advertising. Legislation should differentiate between take-it-or-leave it, opt-out, and opt-in approaches based on the type of use and on whether the information is shared. Congress should consider whether user choices should be affected by the presence of market power.
Portions of this work were supported by the Herman P. & Sophia Taubman Foundation and by NSF. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or IEEE. This material is presented to ensure timely dissemination of scholarly and technical work. Copyright and all rights therein are retained by authors or by other copyright holders. All persons copying this information are expected to adhere to the terms and constraints invoked by each author's copyright. One print or electronic copy may be made for personal use only. Permission must be obtained from the copyright holder for systematic or multiple reproduction, distribution to multiple locations via electronic or other means, duplication of any material in these papers for a fee or for commercial purposes, modification of the content of these papers, reprinting or republishing of this material for advertising or promotional purposes or for creating new collective works for resale or redistribution to servers or lists, and to reuse any copyrighted component of this work in other works.
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