It’s a quandary that prompted a team of researchers from EPFL, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Michigan to develop an AI-driven program to check privacy policies for us.
The work, which was documented in a recently published paper, aims to make it easier for users to understand the privacy policies they so often skip past. The team have developed a tool, called Polisis, which can be used for free either as a browser extension or from their website.
“Our program uses simple graphs and color codes to show users exactly how their data could be used. For instance, some websites share geolocation data for marketing purposes, while others may not fully protect information about children. Such clauses are typically buried deep in their data protection policies,” the researchers say.
The team fed their algorithm over 130,000 different data protection and privacy policies found online. The system then analyzes the text and displays it in an easy-to-read visual format. The aim is to make it possible for users to understand at a glance what the website can and cannot do, and why. The researchers hope this will better enable us to make informed decisions about our data.
The software also works with a chatbot system, called Pribot, that allows users to ask questions about a website’s data protection policy.
“We want to show consumers that they have a choice by giving them the tools to evaluate a service and select an alternative if necessary,” the team say.
Suffice to say, this isn’t the only system aiming to un-muddy the waters. Last year I wrote about a personal privacy assistant tool developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon.
The app uses machine learning to model the privacy preferences of each individual. The system asks the user a few questions about their privacy concerns before then placing them in buckets of like-minded users. It then recommends privacy settings based upon the bucket we find ourselves in.
Suffice to say, the app is very much a work in progress, and the team hope to develop a more proactive approach in coming iterations, with nudges and notifications used to better inform our decisions on a live basis.
Many people who otherwise would not take a look at their settings realize that there is a lot of stuff that they are not aware of,” the team say.
This and Polisis are signs that people are taking data protection and privacy slightly more seriously. Time will tell how effective they prove to be. Check out the video below to learn more about Polisis.