FTC eyes consumer privacy issues and investigates an online "Do Not Track" option, it seems as though web browsers are responding in kind, offering their own solutions to better protect Internet users' data. For its part, IE9 says it will offer "Tracking Protection" via the browser. And now Mozilla has released its contribution: a set of privacy icons meant to inform people about how their data may be used by the websites they visit.As the
Mozilla lead designer Aza Raskin posted the alpha version of the privacy icons on his blog, along with an explanation of their meaning and a recognition of the challenges to adoption they might face.
Noting the complexity of privacy policies and Terms of Service agreements, Raskin says a "catch-all boilerplate" icon is impossible. Instead of replacing privacy policies, the new icons are meant to "bolt on" to existing policies, but give Web visitors an "iron clad guarantee" about how a company treats user data.
The icons break down into five categories: Is your data only for "intended use"? Is your data bought or sold? Is your data given to advertisers? How long is your data kept? Does the site require the government follow the legal process before handing over data? "Data" here, I should add, means "data that is either personally identifiable (including name, ip address, or email address) or associated with some personally identifiable aspect of your identity (such as correlated with your IP address name, or email address)."
Nice Icons, But...
They're nice icons, don't get me wrong. But the question, of course, will anyone use them?
According to Raskin, "Sites already try to differentiate base on privacy concerns, and these icons simply codify what they are already doing. Second, if Privacy Icons become widely adopted (and I think Mozilla is in a unique position to help make that happen) then the correlation of good companies using the icons and bad companies not using the icons becomes rather strong. The absence of Privacy Icons becomes a warning flag for when you go to sign up for new service."
But for now, these privacy icons - machine readable or otherwise - are a long way from reality. Indeed, as Raskin announced last week that he was leaving Mozilla to co-found a healthcare startup, the future of this icon project isn't clear.