Survey Finds Facebook and Google Privacy Policies Even More Confusing Than Credit Card Bills and Government Notices

April 24, 2012

NEW YORK, April 24, 2012 – A new survey released today by global strategic branding firm Siegel+Gale revealed confusion and frustration among consumers regarding Facebook and Google privacy policies. The survey of more than 400 respondents found that users have little understanding of how Facebook and Google track and store user information and activity, and how information is shared and with whom. On a scale of 0 to 100 (with a score of 80 indicating good comprehension), respondents who reviewed Facebook’s and Google’s privacy policies scored 39 and 36, respectively, demonstrating low comprehension.

After reviewing the policies and answering questions through the Siegel+Gale SimplicityLab™, a proprietary quantitative research tool, many respondents said they might reduce the amount of information they give to Facebook and Google. Thirty-six percent of Facebook respondents and 37 percent of Google respondents said they would change their online behavior by using these sites less, adjusting their privacy settings and clearing their search histories.

Despite Google’s recent consolidation of its various privacy policies, survey respondents expressed more discomfort after reading the new, condensed policy. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they feel less comfortable with how Google collects and stores information about user activities than they do with Facebook’s practices.

Key findings include:

  • Google and Facebook privacy policies are more confusing to users than credit card agreements and government notices. In similar studies, on average, 70 percent of respondents correctly answered comprehension questions for government notices and 68 percent of respondents provided the right answers for credit card agreements, far more than the percent of readers who correctly answered questions about Facebook’s and Google’s privacy policies.
  • After reading the privacy policies, 47 percent of respondents felt less comfortable with how Google collects and stores information about activity. Only 33 percent of Facebook users felt comfortable.

Facebook

  • A major comprehension issue is requiring users to use an Application Programming Interface (API) to understand how their information is used. Less than 40 percent of Facebook users understood how an API can be used to access and view public information.
  • Only 15 percent of users correctly understood what happens to their accounts after they’re deleted on Facebook.
  • Just 20 percent of respondents could correctly identify how to block outside applications and websites from accessing their information on Facebook.

Google

  • Twenty-three percent of Google users understood that their profile is visible to anyone online.
  • More than half of Google users interviewed were not aware that the privacy policy also applied to their use of Google Talk, Google Maps, YouTube and Blogger.
  • Only 38 percent understood that Google connects search activity to a user’s IP address whether or not they sign into a Google account.

“The survey shows that there is an urgent demand among users to have greater access to succinct and transparent policy information,” said Thomas Mueller, global director of customer experience of Siegel+Gale. “Respondents thanked us for conducting this survey and clarifying the content of the privacy policies to them. People want to know how their personal information is being collected, stored and used.”

Irene Etzkorn, executive director of simplification of Siegel+Gale, said, “This complexity erodes trust and jeopardizes online privacy. Clearly, Facebook, Google and other online service providers operate based on consumer trust, and failure to address privacy concerns in a meaningful way will lead to consumer disenchantment and additional regulatory restrictions.”

Siegel+Gale suggests Facebook and Google can improve online privacy policy documents by:

  • Succinctly conveying what information is collected, how the information is stored and shared, and how a user can manage their privacy. Consolidation is not the answer, nor is asking users to read detailed information intended for web developers, as Facebook does when it directs users to information about the Graph API.
  • Standardizing policies so that users can more easily understand privacy implications. A good example is the nutrition facts labels used on food and beverages. Using a standard model, people would more quickly understand privacy implications and compare services. Current policies take dedicated readers hours to review because of their length, numerous links and complex wording.
  • Designing a feedback loop into digital interfaces. This would inform users instantaneously of potential privacy issues as they occur and enable users to make wiser choices about sharing information.
  • Allowing users to opt in to share and publicize information. By setting the most conservative privacy settings as the default and letting users decide to expand how their information is tracked, shared and stored, service providers would meet the stated needs of users. Between 70 and 80 percent of survey respondents agreed with the Obama administration’s plan to make it easier for users to control online tracking of consumer personal information.

Mr. Mueller added, “It’s time for these online giants to recognize that their policies bring an unacceptable web of complexity and risk to the lives of their users. The lack of understanding of online privacy is pervasive. Bringing greater simplicity to what web users read online will engender trust among users and only benefit Facebook’s and Google’s reputation.”

Review the full survey results here: siegelgale.com/privacy

About SimplicityLab

SimplicityLab is a proprietary evaluation methodology and index for measuring the effectiveness of all forms of communication and transforming the customer experience by improving clarity, transparency and accessibility.

SimplicityLab diagnoses the effectiveness of a given brand touchpoint (e.g., customer communications) against an index based on two key dimensions—purpose and perception. The methodology includes a quantitative, online survey tool featuring a highly visual interface that engages respondents and provides maximum flexibility to test items in simulated, real-life situations.

About Siegel+Gale

Siegel+Gale is a global strategic branding firm committed to building world-class brands through elegantly simple, unexpectedly fresh strategies, stories and experiences. With Simple is Smart as its operating philosophy, Siegel+Gale delivers powerful services in brand development, simplification, research and digital strategy.

Since its founding by branding pioneer Alan Siegel in 1969, Siegel+Gale has helped drive business results for leading corporations, nonprofits and government organizations worldwide. Siegel+Gale has offices in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Hamburg, Dubai, Shanghai and Beijing and strategic partnerships around the world.



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