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You know the privacy policy story by now: While ostensibly intended to inform users of what a company will do with their personal data, the egregiously long, riddled-in-legalese documents have evolved into a formality rather than a meaningful contract for users themselves.

That’s why Lookout has today, March 14, publicly released an open-source tool that aims to revolutionize that. “Private Parts” allows app developers to customize a short-form privacy policy for their brand or product in five steps, or under an hour.

“The whole idea is to make privacy polices more friendly,” said Bruno Bergher, Lookout’s director of product design. “We’re empowering people to know about what’s being done with their information and be able to act accordingly.”

That’s because it’s more apparent than ever, in the wake of massive data beaches and the Snowden revelations, that gaining user trust is increasingly essential, particularly in the mobile app space. As the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) John Verdi noted recently at the IAPP Global Privacy Summit, “the app marketplace relies on trust, unlike some other enterprise markets where consumers buy from well-known vendors where they have trust relationships.”

But it can be difficult to make a privacy policy that both effectively communicates to users what will happen with the data they’re entrusting to a company and could hold up in court.

“We wanted people to build on our learning as quickly as possible,” Bergher said of the decision to make the product open-source. “Building it in under an hour and not needing a lot of specialized knowledge is a big part of this,” he said, adding that making the policy responsive on any mobile device takes a lot of work.

Lookout’s privacy policy uses visual anchors and icons—which can be expensive and time-consuming to develop brand by brand—so users can make at-a-glance decisions.

“While the content is always there, most people can’t get past the wall of text” in privacy policies, Bergher said. “We took some of the design we use to design our products and applied that to the privacy policy. That led to something that is easier to parse. The language is more approachable for people day-to-day. It gets people more motivated to read.”

Private Parts is based on research and testing about the kinds of choices users actually want to make when interacting with a data-collecting service. The research indicated that, in general, users don’t want to see disclosures on “null sets,” meaning, users don’t want to be burdened by a screen-shot indicating that while biometrics could be collected, they’re currently not.

But testing showed users did want to see disclosures on with whom the brand does, or doesn’t, share data.

“We feel pretty strongly that every company has a lot to gain by being clear,” Bergher said. “Everyone benefits; the user understands more clearly what’s being done with their information, and the developer benefits by getting that brand recognition, which is exactly why we chose to open-source it.”

While Lookout initially created the short-form policy for its own use, the feedback on it was so positive, the brand decided others should have access to it as well.

“We really thought, ‘This could be industry-changing.' We’ve made it really easy so we could create an industry change,” said Irene Liu, associate general counsel for Lookout.

Currently, a number of app developers are testing the product, which also complies with the NTIA’s code on mobile app transparency, as reported last week by The Privacy Advisor.

Written By

Angelique Carson, CIPP/US

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