Sometimes you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.
That’s how it seems after watching the media react to changes in some companies’ privacy policies over the course of the last couple of weeks.
On top of this bold move, AVG went a step further and challenged other companies to do the same.
Sounds good, right? Avoid the long, droning legalese of traditional privacy policies, where companies are criticized for trying to hide what they’re doing, and make something that consumers, and the media, can get behind. Increase transparency and bolster trust.
Well, that’s not exactly what’s happened so far.
Media criticism didn’t stop there and continues into this week. In a column for Slate on Tuesday with the headline, “When Anti-Virus Software Is Really Spyware,” Lily Hay Newman says the situation is “concerning” because essentially “the same product that is protecting people from adware, spyware and malware, might be exactly that.” She does give AVG credit for “being more up front about what it might do with user data, but that doesn’t mean the business model isn’t creepy.”
But is it better than the alternative?
Since the language wasn’t plain, journalists were left to re-cast it, sometimes in a disparaging light.
So, are privacy pros damned if they do write simple privacy policies, and damned if they don’t? Perhaps, but I think there’s good reason to argue for “simple is better.”
It’s true that some on Reddit said they won’t use AVG any longer, and, yes, Slate likens its anti-virus software to spyware. But they likely would have reacted to that information in the policy anyway, as they did with Spotify’s. Ultimately, I’m confident being honest with your customers will prevail. Yes, Slate’s Newman said, their business model is creepy, but she also conceded that at least they’re being up front with their consumers. And that’s a start. Giving them contextual notice and usable controls are likely the next.
PCWorld’s Jared Newman takes a similar sentiment. “AVG’s new policy illustrates exactly why companies tend to drown their data collection practices in legalese. There’s no penalty for doing so, and being transparent only invites more outrage. In that sense, AVG at least deserves credit for helping users make informed decisions.”
Yes, maybe being up front with your customers may invite outrage if you’re doing something they think is outrageous, but if you then provide controls to ameliorate the user concerns, trust can be cultivated. And what company doesn’t want the trust of its users?
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