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Rethinking Privacy Agreements

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Privacy agreements represent the main source of privacy information for products and services that people use every day.

Technology is becoming an essential tool for supporting Canada’s aging population and the use of technologies for this purpose is on the rise. The deployment of products and services using new technologies often involves the collection of user personal data, and there are growing privacy concerns about how these data are collected and managed.

The purpose of this research was to make current privacy agreements more transparent and easily comprehensible for the general public. This document describes the development and validation process of a new proposed privacy agreement layout that uses pictograms to represent the items in the agreement that matter most to users.
A survey was deployed to identify the top 10 concerns that users have with privacy agreements in Canada, the US, and Europe. The most significant concerns identified were:

  1. “The service would notify me in case of hacks or data leaks” (Canada),
  2. “My data are deleted after I delete the app/account” (US), and
  3. “If my data can be sold to third parties” (Europe).

These concerns were modelled on the development of a privacy agreement layout using pictograms. The pictograms were designed using the Double Diamond design method in an iterative design process. A graphical approach similar to the pictograms used for the identification of a workplace hazard was used.

A new layout for privacy agreements was assembled that included the pictograms representing the top 10 privacy concerns consolidated across all surveyed regions. A second survey was then deployed to evaluate the effectiveness of the newly developed pictograms in presenting information from privacy agreements.

The results showed that privacy agreements using pictograms improved readers’ understanding of the content, reduced time spent reading the content and finding the information, and reduced frustration. Based on the findings above, augmenting current privacy agreements with pictograms is recommended for improving the accessibility and comprehension of long and complex documents.

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