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Study: Commerce Department App Privacy Proposal Confuses Consumers

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A confused man scratching his head.

Researchers found the Commerce Department's "short-form notice" privacy proposal was worded in a way that was too ambiguous and confusing for consumers.


The terminology of the Commerce Department's "short-form notice" privacy proposal is too ambiguous, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

The proposal calls for mobile app developers to explain their data-collection practices to consumers in one or two words, but the researchers say their findings suggest this would be confusing. Developers would describe the data collected with phrases such as "biometrics," "health information," "location," and "browser history," and describe the third parties that would receive the data with phrases such as "ad networks" and "social networks."

The researchers asked 800 consumers and four experts to use the short-form terms and found that they had problems applying them. For example, respondents were not sure how to categorize measurement data requested by a fictional app called HipClothes, considering biometrics is defined as "information about your body" and "health info" as "information used to measure health and wellness."

The researchers say the government should conduct more tests with consumers and refine the definition of terms before issuing a final recommendation. "When you have a bunch of lawyers and policy people coming up with the consumer tools, they're not going to come up with something that is necessarily usable," says CMU professor Lorrie Cranor.

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Abstracts Copyright © 2013 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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