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Privacy Policy Survey

Reading privacy policies can be time consuming, but if you know what you are looking for you can reduce the amount of time you spend trying to find the information that matters to you. The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation conducted a survey of the privacy policies of ten online retailers to help consumers understand and efficiently navigate privacy policies. The surveyed retailers were Amazon, eBay, Craigslist, PayPal, Apple, Walmart, Etsy, Home Depot, Target, and Best Buy.

What We Found

  • High Detail: Most privacy policies are highly detailed and provide clear examples of the kind of information that is gathered, how it is used, and who it is shared with.
  • Broad Consent: Shorter privacy policies may indicate that users give the company broad consent when using the site or that the company engages in limited data collection for limited purposes. For example, Craigslist has the shortest privacy policy of the companies surveyed because it does not make any guarantees that data is stored securely. Also, Craigslist does not engage in many of the data sharing practices that other companies practice.
  • Mobile Devices are Covered: Most privacy policies cover mobile devices and, if applicable, in-store activity. Although Craigslist’s privacy policy does not specifically mention mobile devices, the wording is presented broadly and therefor may cover mobile devices.
  • Some Share with Non-Affiliates: Eight of the ten companies surveyed stated in their privacy policies that personal information would not be shared, sold, rented, and/or traded with non-affiliated third-party companies for their marketing purposes. Although Home Depot and Target share information with non-affiliated third-party companies for their marketing purposes, they allow consumers to opt-out if desired.

Consumer Tips for Reading Privacy Policies

  • What is important to you? Find the parts that interest you in the privacy policies—maybe you are more interested in finding a site that specifies what it does to protect your personal information, but you don’t mind targeted ads. Or perhaps you are only concerned with what is actually being done with the information and with whom it is being shared.
  • “Shop” by privacy policies. If one site shares personal information it gathers with third-party non-affiliates, you may receive more promotional advertising from more varied sources than if you use a site that trades with affiliates only, unless there is an opt-out as with Home Depot and Target.
  • Check the privacy policies of the sites you visit frequently. Consider reading the entire privacy policy to ensure that you understand what is being done with your browsing behavior and personal information.

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