Introducing Privacy Rating:

The quick-reference guide to knowing which websites to trust

Many users download apps, allow cookies, and click on unknown links without thinking much about potential consequences.Users care about their privacy but often don’t know how to protect it. This concept is known as the “privacy paradox.” The privacy paradox may occur because of confusing privacy policy that is often not written with the intention of being easily understood, but instead written using jargon and complex words and sentences, or what Barth et al. call “an intimidating information overload that does little to align with the perspective of users trying to ascertain whether to use an online service or not.” 

There has been many previous attempts to visualize online privacy, but none were deemed both “useful (containing the right information) and usable (presenting the information in an understandable way).” When Barth et al. began developing the Privacy Rating, they started with “a thorough and systematic analysis of the privacy aspects of online services that should be deemed relevant and therefore included.” With the help of 30 participants in their study, Barth et al. ended up with a tool that gives websites a “privacy rating” with an overall score and category scores (collection, sharing, control, and security) on a scale of A to G. Users can see a website’s rating with a quick glance. It was important to this team of researchers to take the guess work out of online privacy.

Barth et al. “aim to bring the tool to the market and make it a standard, ideally supported by an independent trustworthy organization.” This article introduced me to the term “optimism bias (underestimating the risks of unsafe behaviors)” and reintroduced me to the term “status quo bias (exhibiting an affinity for default choices).” As technical communicators, it is our duty to challenge those biases and to make sure our audiences have as much correct information as we can give them. Henry Ford once said, “if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” These researchers set a shining example of what it means to challenge optimism bias, status quo bias, and more, because as technical communicators, we want our audience to demand more than what they’ve always gotten.


Privacy Rating: A User-Centered Approach for Visualizing Data Handling Practices of Online Services, by Susanne Barth, Dan Ionita, Menno D. T. De Jong, Pieter H. Hartel, and Marianne Junger

Viewpoint Written by Jonna Sharp, Texas State University

Edited by Talia Baeza-Chavez, Texas State University

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